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Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Seoul, Washington considering large-scale live-fire demonstration next year

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The U.S. Air Force’s F-22 stealth fighters land at Kunsan Air Base in Gunsan, North Jeolla, ahead of planned joint drills with South Korea on Tuesday. [DEFENSE MINISTRY]
The U.S. Air Force’s F-22 stealth fighters land at Kunsan Air Base in Gunsan, North Jeolla, ahead of planned joint drills with South Korea on Tuesday. [DEFENSE MINISTRY]

South Korea and the United States are reviewing holding a large-scale combined live-fire demonstration next year to mark the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the alliance, Seoul’s Ministry of National Defense said Thursday.

“To mark the 70th anniversary of the South Korea-U.S. alliance next year, we are considering various ways to show off the alliance’s military might and its overwhelming deterrence capabilities against North Korea, and a combined joint live-fire demonstration is one such option.” said Jeon Ha-gyu, the Defense Ministry spokesman, in a briefing.

A combined firepower demonstration is a training exercise involving thousands of South Korean and U.S troops in which the two militaries mobilize their latest weapons systems to demonstrate firepower and strengthen their ability to retaliate against any potential enemy provocations.

It would mark the first time in six years such a live-fire drill will be held after such exercises were put on hold during the Moon Jae-in government amid engagement efforts with North Korea. Pyongyang has reacted sensitively to large-scale Seoul-Washington exercises, which it views as war rehearsals. In 2018, the Donald Trump administration suspended large-scale joint exercises in light of denuclearization negotiations with North Korea, and such combined drills were postponed or scaled down in size during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The South Korea and U.S. militaries last held a large firepower demonstration at a base in Pocheon in April 2017.

Around 2,000 South Korean and U.S. troops held their integrated firepower exercise amid heightened tensions on the peninsula. They used some 250 military weapons including K2 tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles, multiple launch rocket systems, Apache helicopters and A-10 combat jets.

Such live-fire drills first took place in June 1977, and a total of nine such live-fire demonstration drills have taken place to date.

The scale and target of the drills were different each time, according to Jeon.

Meanwhile, Seoul and Washington canceled a combined air drill involving the U.S. Air Force’s F-22 stealth fighters scheduled for Thursday due to bad weather.

The South Korean Air Force said Wednesday that the F-22 jets returned to Japan earlier that day amid heavy snow forecast for many parts of the country Thursday.

The F-22 jets arrived at Kunsan Air Base in Gunsan from Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan, earlier this week.

This was the first time F-22 fighters arrived on the peninsula for the combined drills in four years.

On Tuesday, Seoul and Washington conducted air drills involving the U.S. F-22s and B-52H strategic bombers alongside the South Korean Air Force’s F-35As and F-15Ks off the southwestern coast of Jeju Island.

Last Sunday, North Korea launched two medium-range ballistic missiles into the East Sea.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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