(ATTN: ADDS U.S. generals' quotes, details in paras 5-9)
By Kim Deok-hyun
SEOUL, July 26 (Yonhap) -- A fleet of South Korean and U.S. warships carried out massive anti-submarine exercises Monday with F-22 stealth jets flying the skies of South Korea to deter North Korea from any future attack, military officials said.
About 20 ships, 200 aircraft and 8,000 military personnel from the two nations are taking part in the four-day maneuvers aimed at sending a signal to the North, who is accused of sinking a South Korean warship in March.
As part of Monday's drills, four F-22 Raptors, the world's most advanced stealth fighter jet that can evade the North's air defenses, flew over South Korea for the first time, said Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Remington, commander of the U.S. 7th Air Force.
The employment of F-22 jets for the drills demonstrates Washington's strong commitment to deter and defeat any provocative acts that threaten the stability of the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia, Remington said.
"As with all of our combined air assets in theater, the F-22s stand ready to respond in the defense of the Republic of Korea," Remington told a pool of journalists at Osan Air Base near Seoul, using South Korea's official name.
The air readiness exercise with the F-22 fighter jets "provides valuable combined training as well as demonstrates the resolve and support for our Republic of Korea allies," Remington said.
On the George Washington's flight deck, about 30 fighter jets, including F-22s, F-18s and other aircraft of South Korea, took off and landed six times earlier in the day, according to a pool report.
Rear Admiral Dan Cloyd, the top U.S. official in the exercises, said he was confident the drills will send a clear message to the North that any future provocations won't be tolerated, adding the aircraft carrier is keeping a close eye on North Korea's military moves.
"With these extraordinary capabilities, we are working together to deter and defeat any further North Korean provocations," Cloyd told reporters aboard the aircraft carrier.
South Korean officials said Monday's naval exercises were centered on anti-submarine warfare operations.
"Today's exercises focus on better detecting intrusions by an enemy's submarines and attacking them," Col. Lee Bung-woo, a spokesman for the South's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), told reporters earlier in the day.
On Tuesday, the third day of the drills, the allies plan to fire naval guns and artillery at an abandoned submarine disguised as a North Korean submarine, Lee said.
Firing underwater torpedoes, solidifying defense against sea and air intrusions by the North's special forces and air-to-air refueling were among exercise scenarios, according to Lee.
Monday's exercises consisted of simulated attacks on enemy submarines and live-fire drills by a squadron of fighter jets off the east coast, Lee said.
The drills are being conducted in international waters off Ulleung Island, about 120 kilometers east of the Korean Peninsula and far south of the North's waters, according to the officials.
North Korea continued its threats against the drills, its communist party newspaper Rodong Sinmun saying Monday that South Korea and the U.S. "will have to pay a dear price if they persist in the criminal act" of holding the drills.
Despite the hostile rhetoric, South Korea's military has not detected any unusual activity by the North's military, said Won Tae-jae, a spokesman for Seoul's defense ministry.
Code-named "Invincible Spirit," the four-day drills are intended to show the allies' strong deterrence against the North, which is accused of torpedoing the Cheonan warship and killing 46 sailors in March.
The North denied its responsibility for the attack and denounced the allegation as "sheer fabrication."
South Korea deployed its 14,000-ton Dokdo amphibious landing ship, 4,500-ton KDX-II-class destroyers, the 1,800-ton Son Won-il-class submarine and F-15K fighter jets for the drills.
This week's exercises are the first in a series of joint military drills by South Korea and the U.S. off the Korean Peninsula in the coming months.
In an apparent bow to strong complaints from China, the location of this week's maneuvers was moved to the East Sea from the Yellow Sea, where the Cheonan was attacked.
Officials said future drills would be staged in both waters.
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