(ATTN: UPDATES with Navy drills, N. Korean response in last 2 paras; TRIMS)
SEOUL, Aug. 22 (Yonhap) -- South Korea and the United States began a regular combined military exercise Monday, reviving large-scale field training suspended four years ago as the allies push to bolster defense against evolving North Korean nuclear and missile threats.
The Ulchi Freedom Shield (UFS) exercise is set to run through Sept. 1, involving an array of contingency drills, like concurrent field maneuvers that were not held over the past years under the preceding Moon Jae-in administration's drive for peace with Pyongyang.
The allies have kept up vigilance against the possibility of Pyongyang undertaking provocations on the pretext of reacting to their exercise, which the recalcitrant regime has decried as a war rehearsal.
Based on an all-out war concept, the exercise entails three key elements -- the computer-simulation command post exercise, field training and Ulchi civil defense drills.
It is to proceed in two parts -- the first segment involving drills on repelling North Korean attacks and defending the greater Seoul area, with the second part focusing on counterattack operations.
During the first segment, the Seoul government will concurrently hold the Ulchi drills for four days, including those practicing transitioning to a wartime support mode.
The UFS will incorporate drills for various real-life scenarios, including the discovery of improvised explosive devices at nuclear power plants, a fire at a semiconductor factory, paralysis of a banking network, terrorism at airports and drone attacks, according to the defense ministry.
During the exercise, the allies plan to conduct 13 combined field training programs.
The exercise also includes the full operational capability (FOC) assessment, a key procedure for the envisioned conditions-based transfer of wartime operational control (OPCON) from Washington to Seoul.
The FOC assessment is the second part of the three-stage program designed to vet Seoul's capabilities to lead the allies' combined forces. The program is part of various conditions required for the OPCON handover.
To prevent the spread of COVID-19, the two sides have put in place a set of strict antivirus measures, such as requiring troops to take virus tests before joining the exercise and wear face masks.
As part of the UFS, the Navy and personnel from the Army, police, fire service and other agencies engaged in a joint training program on countering chemical, biological, radiological and terorist threats at a port in Incheon, west of Seoul, Navy officials said.
Meanwhile, a North Korean propaganda website, Ryomyong, carried a commentary blasting the allied exercise as a "pitiful" move against a nuclear power and a "dangerous military provocation."
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