Northeast AsiaPartnerships

ROK, U.S. forces stage large-scale military exercises amid intensifying North Korea threat


The Republic of Korea (ROK) and United States Combined Forces Command (CFC) spent 11 consecutive days in March 2023 training to strengthen the nations’ collective defense and response capabilities and enhance military cooperation in air, land, sea, space, cyber and special operations. The Freedom Shield and Warrior Shield exercises were the allies’ largest on the peninsula in five years, military officials said.

“The ROK-U.S. alliance has played a key role in the security of the Republic of Korea,” ROK Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup said during a visit to the CFC Wartime Command Center as drills got underway. “And the CFC has been the symbol and foundation of the ROK-U.S. Alliance to safeguard the peace and prosperity of the Republic of Korea through a firm, combined defense posture.”

Integrating computer-simulated command post training and live field drills, the large-scale exercises took place against a backdrop of escalating North Korean threats. Pyongyang has continued to illegally test-fire banned ballistic missiles since launching a record number in 2022, endangering Indo-Pacific neighbors South Korea and Japan and threatening to use nuclear weapons against South Korea and the U.S.

“North Korea’s recent successive missile launches are a grave provocation that undermine the peace and stability of the international community as well as the Korean peninsula,” Lee said. “We should immerse ourselves in the exercises and establish a combined defense posture of ‘fight tonight.’”

Freedom Shield simulations included lessons learned from current and ongoing conflicts, U.S. Forces Korea said, calling the training an opportunity to bolster combat readiness and for ROK and U.S. forces working to strengthen security and stability across Northeast Asia.

“It’s an incredible experience to participate in this exercise and revitalize the relationship with our ROK counterparts,” said U.S. Marine Maj. Gen. Benjamin Watson, commanding general with the 1st Marine Division, which deployed from Camp Pendleton, California, for Freedom Shield. “We must be ready to deploy and fight together at a moment’s notice. This exercise is the perfect opportunity to rehearse that.”

The combined forces rehearsed command and control, tactical coordination of forces and communication in a realistic combined operations center.

Warrior Shield field training brought together troops for amphibious, air assault and situational training drills. (Pictured: Soldiers in an armored vehicle cross a temporary floating bridge on South Korea’s Imjin River during a Warrior Shield exercise in March.) It came on the heels of air training that included U.S. Air Force B-52 and B-1 aircraft, both of which flew with ROK Air Force F-15s and F-16s.

In February and March, the Teak Knife training exercise united ROK and U.S. special operations forces for multidomain drills that involved using aircraft for precision strikes. Prior to Freedom Shield, ROK and U.S. forces held a four-day crisis management exercise. The allies conducted a tabletop exercise in late February to rehearse responses to a potential North Korean nuclear attack.

“Practice and training are the most fundamental duties of our military,” Lee told ROK and U.S. Soldiers participating in Freedom Shield.


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