The United States continues strengthening its alliance with South Korea by resuming annual joint military drills, despite North Korea’s warnings, as previously reported here at SOFREP. 

After a long suspension due to the COVID-19 pandemic, South Korea and the US will resume their live field training next month during their annual summertime joint military exercise.

According to Seoul’s defense ministry, the allied nations intend to conduct 11 joint live field exercises this summer to increase deterrence against Pyongyang and curb the North’s evolving nuclear and missile programs.

South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup told reporters that they plan to “stage combined air carrier strike group training and drills for amphibious operations at an early date,” and that they aim to conduct more regiment-level or higher drills in the coming months.

The allies had scaled back in recent years with their military exercises, first in 2018, due to diplomatic efforts with the North. However, after South Korean President Yoon Suk-you took office in May, he vowed to continue these joint drills with the US to counter a record number of missile tests conducted by North Korea this year.

South Korea, US ready to retaliate against North

Pyongyang conducted its first launch of the Hwasong-17 ICBM in March, following a four-year moratorium in 2017.

“The new strategic weapon of the DPRK will clearly show the might of our strategic force to the whole world once again. This will be an occasion of confirming the modernity of our strategic force and confidence in the security of the state,” the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, said in March.

Then, earlier in June, the North reportedly fired eight short-range ballistic missiles toward its east coast a day after South Korean and the US concluded their joint military drills. This represents the greatest number of missile tests the North has carried out in a single day. According to South Korean officials, these missiles flew up to 110 kilometers at altitudes ranging from 82,000 feet to 295,276 feet.

The allies responded by launching eight missiles during its military exercise the following week, demonstrating to the North that they could readily retaliate.

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President Joe Biden and President Yoon recently met that month and “agree to initiate discussions to expand the scope and scale of combined military exercises and training on and around the Korean Peninsula,” a joint statement said.

With the recent accomplishments of the alliance, both leaders also pledged to continue building off its “rock-solid foundation” of the US to deploy its military assets in a timely and coordinated manner” and to enhance such measures and identify new or additional steps to reinforce deterrence in the face of DPRK destabilizing activities,” it added.

Despite the preparing to counter any provocation, Yoon reiterated that the door to diplomacy and dialogue would always be left open for the North.

US pivotal role as South Korean allies

Founded in their shared sacrifice and honored by deep security ties, the alliance between the two nations continues to evolve and expand over recent years. The US has so far played a pivotal role as a global leader in democracy, economy, and technology, which South Korea highly recognizes.

In a released joint statement in May, both Presidents acknowledged “that the future of the alliance will be defined by the common effort to address 21st-century challenges.” With this, both leaders vowed to deepen their military ties and broaden cooperation on critical and emerging technologies and cyber security, in line with their “shared democratic principles and universal values.”

South Korea received the US Air Force F-35A stealth fighter in early July ahead of the ally’s joint training next month. A week after, Seoul’s defense ministry approved funding of an additional twenty F-35As, which would increase her fleet to 60 aircraft.

US F-35 Fighter Jets
F-35A Lightning II is a fighter jet engineered by Lockheed Martin that offers a decisive advantage in the battlespace against adversaries with its asymmetric features across the multi-domain spectrum. (Image source from Lockheed Martin)

The procurement is part of the government’s retaliation strike plan called Kill Chain, which aims to address North Korean nuclear and missile threats. Spending around 3.9 trillion won ($3 billion) by the following year, South Korea’s Air Force expects to receive the additional F-35A fighter by 2030.

F-35A Lightning II
F-35A Lightning II technical specs. (Screenshot from Lockheed Martin)

South Korea and the US have been conducting combined military training for decades to close the gap between their political, cultural, doctrinal, and philosophical differences, as well as test their preparedness and abilities to conduct specific missions—in the case of South Korean, to counter unprecedented attacks from the North. This also presents a political message for Pyongyang that emphasizes the alliance’s commitment to protecting the state, people, and territory.

The allies had their largest joint military exercise in 2016, where over 17,000 US troops and 300,000 South Korean soldiers came together. Because of this, North Korea threatened a “pre-emptive and offensive nuclear strike” in response to what they believe was an “undisguised nuclear drill aimed to infringe upon the sovereignty of the DPRK” just a weekend away from the scheduled long military training.