By Debbie Gregory.
For many years, the U.S. military has conducted yearly joint training exercises with South Korea, also known as the Republic of Korea (ROK). The yearly maneuvers have been named Foal Eagle, and are basically staged to strengthen the cohesiveness of the U.S. and ROK militaries. Additionally, the exercises are a deterrent to aggressions from ROK’s neighbor, North Korea, also known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).
Foal Eagle exercises are purely defensive in nature. They are held to gauge and strengthen ROK’s ability to defend itself from its neighbor. The drills often include a U.S. Navy Expeditionary strike group that carries U.S. Marines for a staged amphibious landing, coordinated with ROK forces. Foal Eagle exercises also usually involve field-training exercises, testing the movement and maneuvering of forces and supplies over land, on the sea, and through the air.
In 2008, the joint training with ROK came to include a U.S. Navy Carrier Strike Group. This addition was called “Key Resolve.” Key Resolve is a series of command and control exercises that often take place on computer simulators. Foal Eagle remained the prime joint exercise between U.S. and ROK forces.
This year’s Key Resolve has already concluded, and Foal Eagle 2014 is currently underway. Upon the completion of this year’s Foal Eagle, the joint exercise will implement a third component to their drills. Ssang Yong (Double Dragon) will include bilateral amphibious landing exercises.
From March 27 to April 7, Ssang Yong will involve more than 13,000 Americans and Koreans. The U.S. 7th Fleet reports that 2,000 U.S. Sailors and 7,500 U.S. Marines will join 1,000 ROK Sailors and 3,500 ROK Marines. Also joining in the exercise are 130 Australian soldiers. Altogether, approximately 12,700 U.S. personnel and 200,000 ROK personnel are participating in the combined three joint exercises.
The larger scale of this year’s exercises could be due to the increased hostilities between ROK and DPRK. For years, North Korea has alleged that the joint exercises threatened aggression towards their nation. During the 2012 drills, which coincided with the December 2011 death of leader Kim Jong-il, DKRP released this statement:
“The war drills are an unpardonable infringement upon the sovereignty and dignity of the DPRK as they evidently target the DPRK, which is in the mourning period … The army and people of the DPRK are fully ready to fight a war with them.”
And during the 2013 exercise, North Korea would abandon the Korean Armistice agreement, the uneasy truce that ended active fighting between North and South Korea. North Korea argues that the exercises threaten DPRK with nuclear weapons, due to the capabilities of the involved US naval vessels.
ROK defense officials claim that on February 16, a DPRK warship crossed into ROK’s territorial waters, despite repeated warning by ROK forces. This occurred close to the commencement of Key Resolve 2014. It has also been reported that DPRK launched two Scud-C ballistic missiles on March 2, just before U.S. forces arrived for Foal Eagle exercises.