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Friday, April 19, 2024

South Korea, U.S. begin Freedom Shield, Buddy Squadron exercises

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South Korean and U.S. Air Force personnel take part in a combined exercise at the Korean Air and Space Operations Center at Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi, on Monday. The allies kicked off their 11-day Freedom Shield springtime military exercise earlier that day. [SOUTH KOREAN AIR FORCE]
South Korean and U.S. Air Force personnel take part in a combined exercise at the Korean Air and Space Operations Center at Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi, on Monday. The allies kicked off their 11-day Freedom Shield springtime military exercise earlier that day. [SOUTH KOREAN AIR FORCE]

South Korea and the United States began their annual Freedom Shield joint military exercise, meant to strengthen their combined defense posture against North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats, for an 11-day run on Monday.

The extensive springtime exercise will take the form of a computer simulation-based command post exercise involving land, sea, air, cyber and space assets to strengthen the allies’ ability to respond to various security threats.

A total of 48 field training drills will take place across the country during this year’s exercise, more than double the number held last year.

Seoul and Washington kicked off their five-day Buddy Squadron aerial exercise on the same day at Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi, in conjunction with Freedom Shield, said the South Korean Air Force.

The joint air drills, which run to Friday, will mobilize some 20 fighter jets, including South Korean F-15Ks and U.S. F-16s, training in defensive counter-air maneuvers.

The allies first staged the squadron-level exercise to enhance their fighter jet pilots’ tactical training in 1991. It was later renamed the Buddy Squadron in 1997. The two sides will stage the air drills eight times this year, similar to last year.

In the past, the two allies often didn’t disclose their Buddy Squadron exercise until after it took place.

The Buddy Squadron exercise in July last year marked the first time the South Korean F-35A stealth fighters were mobilized for the drills. During this exercise, the two sides staged live-fire drills with GBU-31 Joint Direct Attack Munitions over the Yellow Sea to enhance precision strike capabilities.

Such air-to-ground drills have been interpreted as training to destroy North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s underground bunkers.

The ongoing Freedom Shield is the first large-scale joint exercise since Pyongyang scrapped a 2018 inter-Korean military agreement in November last year after Seoul partially suspended the accord signed by the previous liberal Moon Jae-in administration to try to diffuse border tensions.

This year’s exercise participants include service members from a dozen United Nations Command (UNC) member states, including Australia, Belgium, Canada, Colombia, France, Britain, Greece, Italy, New Zealand, the Philippines and Thailand.

The exercise aims to ensure the allies can strengthen their combined defense posture and enhance their response capabilities against a spectrum of security threats through virtual and field-based training involving military personnel and related agencies.

Pyongyang often has escalated its bellicose rhetoric during periods of large-scale military drills between the two allies, as it considers such joint exercises as war rehearsals.

On the first day of the drills, the U.S. military’s cutting-edge reconnaissance assets were spotted flying over South Korea apparently to monitor the situation on the peninsula amid the possibility of heightened tensions.

The assets include a U.S. RC-135V aircraft, which arrived from Japan’s Okinawa, and an RC-12X Guardrail, both American airborne signals intelligence collection platforms, as well as a South Korean RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aircraft.

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