U.S., South Korea to hold joint military drills amid North Korea threats

U.S. and South Korean forces will hold the annual Ulchi Freedom Shield exercise Aug. 21-31, South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff spokesman Col. Lee Sung-jun (L) and U.S. Forces Korea spokesman Col. Isaac Taylor (R) announced Monday. Photo by Thomas Maresca/UPI
1 of 4 | U.S. and South Korean forces will hold the annual Ulchi Freedom Shield exercise Aug. 21-31, South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff spokesman Col. Lee Sung-jun (L) and U.S. Forces Korea spokesman Col. Isaac Taylor (R) announced Monday. Photo by Thomas Maresca/UPI

SEOUL, Aug. 14 (UPI) -- The United States and South Korea will kick off a major joint military exercise next week, they announced Monday, amid ongoing regional tensions and provocative rhetoric from North Korea.

The annual Ulchi Freedom Shield exercise will take place Aug. 21-31 and will include live field maneuvers, computer simulation-based command post exercises and related civil defense drills.


The joint drills come in response to evolving nuclear and missile threats from North Korea, officials said, while drawing on observations of warfare in real-world environments such as Ukraine.

"Ulchi Freedom Shield 23 is designed to be a tough and realistic exercise to strengthen the combined defense posture and alliance response capabilities based on scenarios that reflect diverse threats within the security environment and lessons learned from recent wars and conflicts," U.S. Forces Korea said in a joint press statement with South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff.


The announcement comes as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called for weapons factories to "drastically boost the existing missile production capacity," according to a report Monday by state-run Korean Central News Agency.

Kim has toured several munitions plants recently and last week ordered his military to make "offensive" war preparations in response to the "hostile" environment on the Korean Peninsula.

Pyongyang frequently condemns the allies' joint drills as preparation for an invasion while framing its own nuclear program as an exercise in deterrence.

U.S. and South Korean officials stressed the defensive and training elements of the upcoming exercise at a press briefing Monday.

"We're transparent about our exercises every time we come out here," Col. Isaac L. Taylor, a U.S. military spokesman, said. "We're announcing to the entire world right now ... what our intentions are in the next couple of weeks."

South Korean and U.S. forces will stage around 30 field training exercises, or FTXs, in the upcoming drills -- an increase from 25 during the springtime Freedom Shield exercise and 13 in last year's UFS, officials said.

Last August marked the return of large-scale joint field exercises for the first time since 2018, after a period of diplomatic engagement with North Korea and the COVID-19 pandemic led to scaled-down cooperation between the allies.


A new dimension to this year's exercise will be the participation of the U.S. Space Force, which was activated in South Korea in December.

"Since the last UFS, one of the changes that we do have now is a Space Force," Taylor said.

"Throughout this exercise, one of the things that we will be focusing on ... is how do we incorporate multidomain operations," he said. "You have the space component, you have the land component, air, sea, cyber and cognitive domains. How do you take all those resources that commanders have at their fingertips and be able to utilize those effectively?"

The United States and South Korea have ramped up their military cooperation and Washington has deployed numerous assets, including a nuclear ballistic missile submarine last month, under its extended deterrence agreement with Seoul.

Officials did not specify whether any U.S. assets would participate in the upcoming exercise, but Taylor said the military would be open about their deployment.

"If something does come, we will be transparent about that asset being here and provide imagery or information about how that asset was utilized here on the peninsula," he said.

In addition to U.S. and South Korean forces, personnel from the nine other member countries of the United Nations Command will join the exercise. Australia, Canada, France, Britain, Greece, Italy, New Zealand, the Philippines and Thailand will take part in different capacities, the USFK said in a separate release.


The U.S.-led UNC plays a key role in maintaining and enforcing the armistice agreement that halted fighting in the 1950-53 Korean War, with duties that include controlling DMZ access and communicating with the North Korean military.

The allies will also hold a four-day crisis management exercise beginning Tuesday. The exercise focuses on interoperability and communications among the headquarters of South Korean and U.S. forces.

U.S., South Korea hold live-fire drills near DMZ

Spectators watch an explosion at a combined U.S.-South Korea live-fire exercise at Seungjin Fire Training Field in Pocheon, South Korea on May 25, 2023. Photo by Thomas Maresca/UPI | License Photo

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