Mission-specific exercises ready joint forces on peninsula
The Republic of Korea (ROK) and U.S. militaries have organized new exercises to replace larger-scale activities in an effort to maintain a robust defense posture while supporting diplomatic efforts to secure the peace.
The joint computer-simulated command post exercise Dong Maeng, which means “alliance” in Korean, was held March 4-12, 2019, in place of the larger joint exercises Key Resolve and Foal Eagle, which were called off on March 2, 2019.
South Korea has also launched Exercise Ulchi Taegeuk, a new civilian-military exercise scheduled for May 27-30, to supplant the previous joint Ulchi Freedom Guardian (UFG) exercise, which was suspended by the Pentagon in June 2018.
Dong Maeng focused on “strategic, operational and tactical aspects of general military operations on the Korean Peninsula,” according to a March 3, 2019, joint statement by ROK Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Park Han-ki and the commander of the ROK-U.S. Combined Forces Command (CFC), Gen. Robert Abrams.
“It is important for professional armies to train and maintain a standard of readiness,” the statement added. “Joint exercises are indispensable to maintaining and strengthening an alliance.”
Major U.S.-South Korea exercises are being replaced with smaller, mission-specific exercises as part of the Trump administration’s diplomatic effort to ease tensions with North Korea.
Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo referred to Dong Maeng as an “exemplary model in which we provided our military support to the diplomatic efforts of our countries” at his April 1, 2019, meeting with Acting U.S. Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan in Washington.
“Through such combined exercises,” he added, “I believe that the ROK-U.S. alliance, as well as the ROK-U.S. combined defense posture, can only grow stronger.”
Earlier, on his visit to the Dong Maeng command center, Jeong made specific observations about how the posture could be strengthened.
“We should consolidate the South Korea-U.S. combined defense posture by making fuller use of the command, control, communication, computer and intelligence system and readiness system than before,” he said, according to the Ministry of National Defense.
Abrams said Dong Maeng strengthened combined defense and readiness posture, adding that it “contributed to the groundwork for the transition of wartime operational control for the CFC,” according to the U.S. Department of Defense.
The transition of wartime operational control from U.S. to South Korean commanders is a goal the ROK military wants to achieve, Jeong said.
Exercise Ulchi Taegeuk in May 2019 will combine the Taegeuk command post exercise, first held in October 2018, and the Ulchi government exercise, which had been part of the UFG joint exercise, reported Yonhap, South Korea’s government-affiliated news agency.
Ulchi Taegeuk aims to strengthen the independent capabilities of ROK military to deter and defend against armed attacks, Yonhap added, as well to prepare for such contingencies as attacks by terrorists and natural disasters.
The 2017 UFG, pictured, was a computer-simulated defensive exercise geared toward enhancing readiness, stability on the Korean Peninsula and protecting the region. It involved about 50,000 ROK troops and 17,500 troops from the U.S. The May 2019 Ulchi Taegeuk is projected to be much smaller and involve only ROK forces.
Felix Kim is a FORUM contributor reporting from Seoul, South Korea