Joint drills will be far from NLL, military reports

Posted on : 2010-11-27 14:34 KST Modified on : 2010-11-27 14:34 KST
Experts say warships will remain out of N.Korea’s missile range, but on the West Sea for the first time
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By Kwon Hyuk-chul, Staff Writer

Joint South Korea-U.S. drills with the USS George Washington in the West Sea will be held from Sunday to Wednesday. North Korea has promised retaliation if both countries hold the drills in the West Sea.

South Korea and the United States have stated that the drills are routine and defensive in nature, but with the drills being held in the middle of the West Sea for the first time, they strongly take on the character of a show of force against North Korea.

“A U.S. carrier has come to the West Sea area before, but that was in the southern part of the West Sea,” said a military official on Friday. “This is the first time a drill will be held further north, in the waters near the islands of Taean, South Chungcheong Province.”

The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington, which the Chinese has monitored, reportedly will remain in open seas south of South Jeolla Province for the period of the drill.

Moreover, the South Korean military and U.S. military reportedly plan to limit the exercise to waters south of Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province. This means they will conduct the exercise in waters outside the range of North Korea’s Samlet (83~95km) and Silkworm and Styx (46km) land-to-sea anti-ship missiles. Military experts cite this as reason why North Korea will have a tough time launching “retaliatory strikes,” as they called them, at the drill.

In addition to land-based anti-ship missiles, it appears North Korean air strikes on the ships participating in the drill will be impossible. Participating in the carrier strike force will be the 9,600-ton Aegis cruisers USS Cowpens and 9,750-ton Aegis destroyers USS Shiloh and USS Stethem and USS Fitzgerald. One Aegis destroyer carries about 100 Tomahawk cruise missiles that can bombard North Korea’s nuclear facilities with precision strikes.

The E-2C airborne early warning aircraft about the carrier is a “flying radar base” that detects and analyzes the situation in the air and ground from a far distance. The USS George Washington carries about 80 aircraft, including the fighter-bombers F/A-18E/F Super Hornets and F/A-18A/C Hornet. South Korea will provide two KDX-II destroyers, a patrol boat, frigate, supply ship and anti-submarine aircraft.

“The area where the exercise will take place is not near the NLL, but the forces can concentrate on drilling their capacity for air warfare and air defense as well as warfare at sea,” said a military official. “It will be a stronger drill than the one in the East Sea in July, which also featured the USS George Washington.”

US nuclear submarines will not participate, but South Korean submarines will reportedly play the role of enemy subs in anti-sub drills.

As the drill is taking place far from the NLL, the Marines on Baengnyeong Island, Yeonpyeong Island and the other Five West Sea Islands will not participate. The Marine artillery drills on Yeonpyeong Island will restart during the middle of next month, after the damage from Tuesday’s attack has been repaired. On Sunday, the first day of the joint South Korea-U.S. drill, the Marines will participate in regiment-level landing drills at Mallipo, South Chungcheong Province as part of the Hoguk Exercise, a primarily South Korean drill that involves U.S. participation.

Meanwhile, in response to Seoul’s and Washington’s explanations that the drill is defensive, Kim Jong-dae, the editor-in-chief of the military analysis magazine Defense Focus, said, “The term ‘defensive drill’ is political language, and no drill is purely defensive.” Kim added, “Ultimately, the drill will include offensive exercises such as counterattacks and repulsing enemy attacks.”

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