(4th LD) S. Korea, U.S. to stage annual exercise from March 13-23
(ATTN: UPDATES with allies' air drills in last 2 paras)
SEOUL, March 3 (Yonhap) -- South Korea and the United States plan to kick off a combined springtime military exercise later this month, the allies announced Friday, as they are striving to beef up deterrence against North Korea's evolving nuclear and missile threats.
The Freedom Shield (FS) exercise is scheduled to take place from March 13-23 without a break, marking the longest-ever edition of their joint computer-simulation command post exercise, according to the South's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) and the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK).
It is to proceed concurrently with the new large-scale field training exercise, called "Warrior Shield," in line with the allies' push to reinforce training programs and enhance their "realism."
Prior to the FS, the allies plan to conduct a four-day crisis management exercise.
"Freedom Shield is designed to strengthen defense and response capabilities of the Alliance by focusing within the exercise scenario on things such as the changing security environment, DPRK aggression and lessons learned from recent wars and conflicts," USFK spokesperson Col. Isaac L. Taylor told a joint press briefing.
DPRK stands for the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
Taylor added that the Warrior Shield stands for the alliance's "capability and resolution" to ensure a combined defense posture to defend the South.
The Warrior Shield represents a return to the scale of the massive Foal Eagle exercise that was suspended in 2019 under the preceding Moon Jae-in administration keen on inter-Korean rapprochement, officials said.
The overall drills focus on practicing steps to deter war and defuse tensions through a joint crisis management mechanism, as well as war execution procedures, according to Seoul officials.
Seoul's defense authorities have said that the allies are set to apply to the FS "realistic" training scenarios related to the North's "high-intensity" nuclear threats, including its hardening of rhetoric against Seoul and Washington.
Participants in the FS will also include personnel from the U.N. Command and subordinate component commands under the South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command, as well as representatives of the U.N. sending states, according to the USFK.
The USFK pointed out that the Freedom in the exercise's name refers to the "strong will" to protect freedom as an "immutable" value of the alliance, and the Shield symbolizes the defensive nature of the exercise.
Pyongyang has warned that Seoul and Washington would face "unprecedentedly" strong counteractions should they press ahead with this year's plans for combined drills, which it has decried as preparations for a war of aggression.
On concerns about the possibility of the North taking provocative acts in response to the drills, JCS spokesperson Col. Lee Sung-jun said the allies will respond "sternly based on the overwhelming capabilities of the alliance."
Meanwhile, the allies held combined air drills over the Yellow Sea and a central inland region on Friday, involving at least one U.S. B-1B strategic bomber and the South's F-15K and KF-16 fighters, according to Seoul's defense ministry.
"This (exercise) demonstrates the U.S.' will and capability to put into action its (commitment) of strong and credible extended deterrence against North Korea's nuclear and missile threats," it said in a release.
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