The United States and South Korea kicked off their largest-ever combined live-fire exercise Thursday in Pocheon, South Korea, just 15 miles south of the DMZ. Photo by Thomas Maresca/UPI
POCHEON, South Korea, May 25 (UPI) -- The United States and South Korea held their largest-ever combined live-fire exercise on Thursday at a training site just miles from the demilitarized zone as tensions remain high with nuclear-armed North Korea.
Thursday's drill, the first of its kind in six years, took place at the Seungjin Fire Training Field in Pocheon, 15 miles south of the inter-Korean border.
The exercise demonstrated the "realization of 'peace through strength' with overwhelming cutting-edge military capabilities," the South's Ministry of National Defense said in a statement.
It also commemorated the 70th anniversary of the U.S.-South Korea alliance and the 75th anniversary of the founding of the South Korean military, the ministry said.
Some 2,500 troops and more than 600 assets, including F-35A stealth fighters, AH-64 Apache attack helicopters and K2 tanks, took part before a crowd of soldiers and invited civilians watching from a viewing stand.
The show of force comes amid a state of heightened tensions with Pyongyang, which has kept up a record pace of weapons tests since last year, including the April launch of its first solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspected a military reconnaissance satellite last week and gave the go-ahead for its launch.
Washington and Seoul, meanwhile, have shored up their military cooperation over the past year and have returned to large-scale joint exercises. South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and U.S. President Joe Biden recently adopted the Washington Declaration, an enhanced nuclear cooperation pact that will include greater information sharing and visits by U.S. nuclear submarines to South Korea.
North Korea has regularly condemned the allies' joint exercises as preparation for an invasion. Last week, state-run Korean Central News Agency called the upcoming live-fire drill "a typical [N]orth-targeted war rehearsal."
"We cannot but take a more serious note of the fact that they are going to make gunfire in such dangerous war exercises, which will last for more than 20 days, frantically in an area only a few kilometers away from our front," the unsigned KCNA commentary said.
The allies "are bound to face corresponding responses for their madcap nuclear war racket," the article added.
The 130-minute program on Thursday "strengthen[ed] North Korea deterrence through realistic maneuvers and live-fire exercises based on North Korean provocation scenarios," the Defense Ministry statement said.
After introductory videos and a high-volume playlist of martial songs and heavy metal music, rocket launchers began a barrage that struck targets across the training field, sending out thunderous shockwaves and clouds of billowing smoke.
South Korean forces continued the assault with ground and air assets, including K2 battle tanks, K21 armored vehicles, F-35A fighters, AH-64E Apache and AH-1S Cobra attack helicopters.
U.S. Forces Korea also deployed M270A1 multiple launch rocket systems, M1135 nuclear, biological, chemical, reconnaissance vehicles and Apache helicopters.
"[The exercise] sends a message generally to the whole world about how strong the alliance is," U.S. Army Capt. Anthony Lopez told reporters after the drill. "It creates a shared understanding and it helps us learn how we can better create a stronger alliance through these interoperability exercises."
The allies plan to stage the combined exercise four more times through June 15.