SEOUL, May 24 (UPI) -- South Korea will launch a new civilian-military exercise next week, its defense ministry announced on Friday, an alternative to a joint exercise with the United States that was canceled last year during ongoing peace efforts with North Korea.
The new exercise, called Ulchi Taegeuk, will take place May 27-30 and will include around 480,000 civilians, officials and armed service members from 4,000 government offices and institutions.
The focus of the exercise is to "strengthen the national crisis management capacity for comprehensive security threats including massive disasters and terrorism," as well as to "establish emergency preparedness in case of war," the defense ministry said in a statement.
Ulchi Taegeuk will combine parts from two existing programs: the Taegeuk command post exercise, led by the South Korean military, and the Ulchi government exercise, which had been part of the joint South Korea-U.S. Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise.
The massive drills, which in 2017 included 17,500 U.S. troops and 50,000 South Korean troops, were a constant sore spot for Pyongyang, which often characterized them as a dress rehearsal for a full-scale invasion of the North.
At his summit with Kim, Trump announced he would cancel the "war games," calling them "provocative," a term that was often used by Pyongyang.
Under the new format, the Ulchi exercise focuses on national crisis management and training civilians and official personnel to deal with emergency situations from war to natural disasters to toxic chemical or nuclear leaks.
Seoul launched the exercise in 1968 in the aftermath of a failed attempt by North Korean commandos to infiltrate the presidential Blue House and assassinate then-President Park Chung-hee. It was first combined with U.S. exercises in 1976.
The Taegeuk exercise, launched in 1994, focuses on South Korean military readiness in the case of war.
The move is the latest in a series of defense drill changes meant to lower tensions on the Korean peninsula and support peace efforts with North Korea.
In March, Seoul and Washington announced the new joint Dong Maeng exercise, which was a scaled-down modification of the springtime Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises, focusing on computer-simulated war games. The change came on the heels of the February Hanoi summit between Trump and Kim, a meeting which ended abruptly without a deal as both sides could not come to an agreement over sanctions relief and denuclearization.
Despite the reduced scope of the Dong Maeng exercise, Pyongyang reacted with indignation. In an April policy speech, Kim said that the exercises violated a commitment given to him by President Trump and that they "seriously rattle" North Korea.
Earlier this month, the United States and South Korea concluded a two-week joint air force drill, a reduced version of their Max Thunder exercises. North Korea accused the South of "betrayal" for taking part.
On May 4 and May 9, North Korea conducted two separate missile tests, launching at least three short-range ballistic missiles in the first such activity since 2017.