(ATTN: UPDATES with US military plane's flight over Korea in 7th para)
SEOUL, March 13 (Yonhap) -- South Korea and the United States kicked off a regular combined military exercise Monday amid heightened tensions caused by North Korea's missile tests and hardening rhetoric against the allies.
The computer simulation-based Freedom Shield (FS) exercise began its 11-day run under "realistic" scenarios reflective of the North's evolving nuclear and missile threats, Seoul officials said. It is to proceed with the concurrent field training exercise, called the Warrior Shield.
The springtime exercise got under way at midnight after the recalcitrant regime fired what it claimed to be two "strategic cruise missiles" from a submarine on Sunday and conducted a "fire assault drill" three days earlier.
The FS is to continue without a weekend break, marking the allies' lengthiest command post exercise. It is known to involve wartime procedures to repel potential North Korean attacks and conduct a stabilization campaign in the North.
"The combined exercise is a defensive one based on a combined operational plan designed to defend the ROK from potential North Korean aggression," the South's Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement. ROK stands for the South's official name, the Republic of Korea.
Alongside the FS, the allies plan to conduct some 20 field drills, including the Ssangyong (double dragon) amphibious exercise, under the collective name of the Warrior Shield. They represented a return to the scale of the Foal Eagle field exercise suspended in 2019 under the preceding Moon Jae-in administration keen on inter-Korean rapprochement.
On the first day of the allied exercise, a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft, called BD-700 N799JR, known as the Airborne Reconnaissance and Electronic Warfare System, flew over South Korea, according to a tweet by the aviation tracker Aircraft Spots. The sortie is viewed as a move to keep close tabs on North Korean military movements.
The U.S. military is expected to send the nuclear-powered USS Nimitz aircraft carrier late this month for combined maritime drills with the South Korean Navy in connection with the FS, officials said.
On Sunday, North Korea launched two "strategic cruise missiles" from a submarine, according to its state media, a move seen as a protest against the allies' practice. Pyongyang has threatened to take "overwhelming" measures in response to it.
Meanwhile, the South Korean Air Force kicked off its own field training exercise, which includes daytime and nighttime sorties, and contingency procedures on the timely supply of ammunition, the emergency restoration of damaged airstrips and responses to terrorist attacks using chemical, biological and radioactive weapons, according to the armed service.
The South and the U.S. conduct two major combined command post exercises each year to practice crisis management and war execution procedures -- one in the spring and the other in the summer. The summertime exercise, called the Ulchi Freedom Shield, includes the South Korean government's Ulchi civil defense drills.
Pyongyang has long decried these exercises as a rehearsal for a war of invasion against it.
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