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(2nd LD) S. Korea, U.S. to develop 'realistic' training scenarios on N.K. nuke, missile threats

All News 17:13 December 21, 2022

(ATTN: UPDATES with more details in paras 15-17)

SEOUL, Dec. 21 (Yonhap) -- South Korea and the United States plan to craft "realistic" training scenarios to handle advancing North Korean nuclear and missile threats while expanding the scale of their field drills next year, the defense ministry said Wednesday.

Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup presided over a meeting of top commanders to discuss the plan and other policy priorities, amid tensions caused by the North's continued missile launches, including that of what Seoul called medium-range ballistic missiles on Sunday.

In the first half of next year, the allies plan to conduct some 20 combined training programs, including the Ssangyong (double dragon) amphibious exercise -- all at the same level of the large-scale Foal Eagle field training officially suspended in 2019 amid diplomacy with the North, according to the ministry.

Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup (C) and other top military officers attend a top-brass meeting at the defense ministry in Seoul on Dec. 21, 2022, in this photo released by Lee's office. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup (C) and other top military officers attend a top-brass meeting at the defense ministry in Seoul on Dec. 21, 2022, in this photo released by Lee's office. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

The plan raised speculation that the allies are poised to effectively revive the Foal Eagle drills as the North is forging ahead with its key weapons projects, including those to develop solid-fuel long-range missiles and tactical nuclear arms.

"(We) decided to expand the scale and types of combined field drills in connection with combined exercises for the first half of next year, while deepening and developing execution procedures for theater-level exercises through the crafting of realistic training scenarios in light of advancing North Korean nuclear and missile threats," the ministry said in a press release.

The ministry did not elaborate on which exercise scenarios could be under consideration. But they are expected to include various stages of nuclear threats, including a phase when signs emerge of an impending nuclear strike.

Lee stressed that the South will cope with the North's nuclear threats based on the U.S.' "extended deterrence" commitment to mobilizing a full range of its military capabilities, including nuclear, to defend its ally.

On the North's non-nuclear threats, the minister stressed the need for the South Korean military to take a "leading" role.

"To ensure that we can respond sternly and perfectly to any North Korean provocations, I particularly emphasize the maintenance of a posture to respond immediately on the ground for a definite win in any combat," Lee was quoted as saying.

Participants at the meeting also discussed the plan to install a new Joint Chiefs of Staff division in charge of responding to threats from the North's nuclear and weapons of mass destruction next month.

The establishment of the division will be part of step-by-step efforts to create the "strategic command" that the military has been pushing for to bolster its overall operational capabilities, according to the ministry.

The meeting agenda included the ministry's push for the Defense Innovation 4.0 initiative aimed at harnessing artificial intelligence (AI) and other latest technologies to address a potential troop shortage as the result of the country's low birthrate, and bolster overall defense capabilities.

The military plans to start a phased transition next year toward an AI-based system employing both manned and unmanned platforms, as part of efforts to build its own force reinforcement process and bolster security capabilities in outer space, cyberspace and other domains.

Top defense officials agreed to start increasing investment next year for the development of cutting-edge technologies to improve "high-power, ultra-precision strike capabilities," the ministry said.

Later in the day, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Kim Seung-kyum presided over an annual meeting of general-grade officers from all armed services, called the Mugunghwa Meeting.

The military has held the meeting since 1973 to discuss national security issues and strengthen interservice cooperation. Mugunghwa, the rose of Sharon in English, is the country's national flower.

The meeting was followed by a session of key military operations commanders.

At the commanders' gathering, Kim called for thorough preparedness and a stern response to any North Korean provocations to ensure successful on-the-ground operations.

Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) Chairman Gen. Kim Seung-kyum (C) and other top commanders salute as they kick off a top-brass meeting on military readiness at the JCS headquarters in Seoul on Dec. 21, 2022, in this photo released by the JCS. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) Chairman Gen. Kim Seung-kyum (C) and other top commanders salute as they kick off a top-brass meeting on military readiness at the JCS headquarters in Seoul on Dec. 21, 2022, in this photo released by the JCS. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

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