On Monday, the South Korean and U.S. militaries initiated their largest joint military exercises in several years. The drills aim to improve the countries’ military readiness and combined operations in case of potential threats from North Korea. The drills came as North Korea claimed to have conducted tests of submarine-launched cruise missiles, which is believed to demonstrate its opposition to the exercises that it perceives as a practice for an invasion.
Moreover, the missile tests are significant because they demonstrate North Korea’s increasing military capabilities, particularly in its submarine-launched weapons program. The missile tests conducted by North Korea on Sunday suggest that the country may carry out further provocative weapons testing during the 11-day U.S.-South Korean joint military drills. This comes after North adversaries’ “desperate” military operations.
North Korea showcased its military capabilities by launching two strategic cruise missiles from a submarine shortly before the United States, and South Korea commenced their most significant joint military drills in five years.#NorthKorea #SouthKorea #Drills #MilitaryDrills #USA pic.twitter.com/ULAuPB6Kvw
— News Live (@NewsLiveFree) March 13, 2023
The missile tests will likely escalate regional tensions, as North Korea has a history of using such provocative acts to gain leverage in negotiations and showcase its military capabilities. The U.S. and South Korea have been conducting joint military drills for years, but they are often met with criticism and condemnation from North Korea, which views them as a prelude to an invasion.
Key Details of South Korea-U.S. Joint Military Drills
The military drills between South Korea and the U.S. involve a computer simulation called the Freedom Shield 23 and various combined field training drills, collectively known as the Warrior Shield FTX. The exercises aim to enhance the military readiness and cooperation between the two countries, as they face ongoing security challenges in the region, particularly from North Korea. However, South Korean and U.S. authorities have not disclosed the specific details of the drills, which commenced on Monday.
Freedom Shield 23 is designed to enhance the defense and response capabilities of the allies amidst North Korea’s growing nuclear threats and other evolving security challenges. Freedom Shield 23 simulation is expected to test the countries’ joint response to various security scenarios, while the Warrior Shield FTX will involve ground and air maneuvers by troops from both countries. The field exercises, collectively known as the Warrior Shield FTX, will also be conducted on a larger scale, similar to the Foal Eagle training held in 2018.
North Korea has a history of reacting aggressively to joint military drills between South Korea and the U.S., viewing them as a threat to its sovereignty. Keeping the details of the drills confidential will likely prevent North Korea from gaining insights into the countries’ military capabilities and strategies. Despite the secrecy surrounding the drills, they are expected to be closely monitored by regional powers, including China and Russia, who have expressed concerns about the potential for a military escalation in the region.
North Korea Claims Strategic Missile Tests amid Joint Military Exercises
According to North Korea’s state media, the recently fired two cruise missiles from a submarine off its east coast demonstrated the country’s determination to respond with “overwhelmingly powerful” force to the increasing military activities of the U.S. and South Korea. The missiles were described as “strategic” weapons and were launched to confirm the operational readiness of the country’s “nuclear war deterrence” capabilities, raising concerns that North Korea may intend to equip its cruise missiles with nuclear warheads.
This latest development underscores the ongoing security challenges in the region as North Korea continues to develop and test its missile and nuclear capabilities. The exercises between South Korea and the U.S. will likely further inflame tensions, as North Korea views them as a provocation and a threat to its sovereignty. The international community has called for continued diplomatic efforts to address the underlying security concerns and to prevent an escalation of military activities in the region.
Extended Range Capabilities
North Korea’s state media reported that its recent submarine-launched missile tests involved missiles that flew for over two hours, creating figure-eight patterns before hitting targets 1,500 kilometers (930 miles) away. The missiles were fired from a submarine named 8.24 Yongung, also used for North Korea’s first submarine-launched ballistic missile test in 2016. The extended range of the cruise missiles has raised concerns among experts, as they can now reach targets as far away as Japan, including U.S. military bases in Okinawa.
According to Kim Dong-yub, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, the missiles could even reach the US Pacific territory of Guam if launched from North Korean waters at a greater distance. Sunday’s test marked the country’s first underwater missile test since it tested a weapon from a silo under an inland reservoir in October 2021. In May 2021, North Korea also test-fired a short-range ballistic missile from the same submarine. Despite international sanctions and pressure, these developments highlight North Korea’s continued efforts to enhance its military capabilities.
North Korea’s possession of submarine-launched missile systems gives the country an added advantage as it makes it harder for adversaries to detect launches ahead of time and provides North Korea with the capability of retaliatory attacks. However, experts suggest that building a fleet of several submarines, which can travel silently in the seas and reliably carry out attacks, would require significant technological advancements, extensive resources, and several years of work. Given the nation’s heavy sanctions and isolation, such progress is unlikely.
U.S. and South Korea Scale Back Joint Exercises Amidst Diplomatic Efforts & Pandemic Concerns
In pursuit of diplomatic efforts to denuclearize North Korea and due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. and South Korea had previously canceled or reduced some of their military drills. However, recent developments, including North Korea’s 70 missile tests and adoption of an increasingly aggressive nuclear doctrine, prompted the two allies to expand their joint exercises. The U.S. recently conducted joint aerial drills with South Korean fighter jets, featuring powerful long-range bombers, demonstrating its commitment to defend its Asian ally against potential conflict with North Korea using a full range of armed capabilities, including nuclear options.
According to KCNA, Kim Jong Un oversaw a live-fire artillery exercise on Thursday that simulated attacks on a South Korean airfield. He instructed his military to retain the ability to “overwhelmingly respond” to hostile actions, including “various frenzied war preparations.” South Korea’s Defense Ministry acknowledged the deployment as a sign of the U.S.’s commitment to regional security.