By Oh Seok-min
SEOUL, June 10 (Yonhap) -- South Korea and the United States have already carried out joint air and missile defense exercises as scheduled earlier this year, the defense minister said Wednesday, even though the two sides postponed an annual springtime drill due to the coronavirus.
Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo disclosed during a meeting of top military commanders that the South and the U.S. conducted a combined Air Force combat readiness posture drill and a missile defense system integration exercise "normally as planned in the first half of this year."
Jeong did not elaborate further.
But a military officer said that the two sides "carried out the MD exercises under the scenario of North Korea's missile threats to share intelligence on such firings and coordinate responses," adding it is one of the regular exercises between the two countries.
The exercise was meant to improve combined air operations and enhance operability of their forces, equipment and related procedures against North Korean threats, the officer said, stressing it does not indicate that South Korea would be incorporated into the wider U.S. missile defense system.
During the exercise, the two sides reportedly simulated the integration of their missile detection and interception means, such as South Korea's Patriot missiles and the U.S.' Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system.
North Korea has been strengthening its missile capabilities amid stalled denuclearization talks with the United States. Last year, it showed off several new types of short-range ballistic missiles, including its version of Russia's Iskander.
Seoul and Washington usually carry out major combined exercises twice a year. But they indefinitely postponed the planned springtime exercise due to COVID-19, and it has not been held to date as the health crisis continues. Discussions are now under way about when and how to stage their key summertime combined exercise, according to sources.
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