South Korea and the United States on Monday kicked off a new weeklong combined exercise that replaced their major springtime Key Resolve drills under an alliance decision to spur peace efforts with North Korea.
The Dong Maeng command post exercise will run through March 12, excluding the upcoming weekend. Dong Maeng means alliance in English and the exercise is seen as a truncated replacement for the usually two-week-long Key Resolve exercise.
In phone talks Saturday, Seoul's Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo and acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan decided to abolish the Key Resolve and the Foal Eagle field training program to support diplomacy for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
Their decision reaffirmed the allies' willingness to keep the door open for dialogue with Pyongyang despite the breakup of last week's summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Hanoi.
The new exercise involves staff and troops from the South Korean defense ministry, Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) and operations commands of the Army, Navy and Air Force, and those from the South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command (CFC), U.S. Forces Korea and Indo-Pacific Command.
It is expected to be carried out on a smaller scale, with a counterattack portion of Key Resolve apparently omitted. The Foal Eagle maneuvers have been reorganized into low-key smaller-scale drills to be conducted throughout the year.
"The Dong Maeng exercise is aimed at maintaining military readiness to counter various possible threats from all directions," a military official in Seoul said on condition of anonymity.
"The allies have decided on the scale of the exercise through consultations in consideration of the combined defense posture and the current security situation," he added.
Seoul's defense ministry brushed aside concerns that the reorganization of the allies' springtime drills will affect their combined readiness.
"We believe there is no problem at all when it comes to the actual combined defense posture that will be maintained through the new command post exercise and revised field training programs," Choi Hyun-soo, the ministry spokeswoman, said during a regular press briefing.
"Even though the exercise's duration will be truncated, there will be no problem in our efforts to achieve the practical goals (of the drills)," she added.
Announcing the launch of the Dong Maeng exercise, Seoul's JCS Chairman Gen. Park Han-ki and CFC Commander Gen. Robert Abrams jointly said that it is important for professional armies to train and maintain "a standard of readiness."
Last Thursday, Trump and Kim ended their nuclear parley without an agreement as they failed to narrow gaps over Washington's sanctions relief and Pyongyang's denuclearization.
The U.S. Marine Corps will not send any troops or equipment to this year's annual combined regiment-level Ssangyong amphibious landing exercise with its South Korean counterpart, apparently to facilitate ongoing diplomacy with the North, a military source here said. The weeklong exercise is set to begin early next month.
Since 2012, the U.S. armed service has participated in the Ssangyong exercise, part of the Foal Eagle field training.
Last April, the U.S. Marines sent its 4,500-ton amphibious assault ship Wasp, six F-35 radar-evading fighters and other assets.
In the past, Seoul and Washington used their combined exercises to keep Pyongyang on a denuclearization track.
In 1992, they skipped the Team Spirit exercise after the North's agreement to accept an IAEA safeguard agreement. But the exercise was resumed the following year, due to Pyongyang's refusal to embrace a more rigorous inter-Korean inspection program.