The exercise, based on a counterattack on invading forces, comes after the US and South Korean presidents pledged to step up military cooperation after a May summit in Seoul, and after North Korea launched 18 missiles this year, compared to just four tests in 2020 and eight in 2021.
CNN was one of two Western media organizations invited to watch the training.
“There is no stronger alliance in the world than the alliance between the United States and the Republic of Korea,” Colonel Brandon Anderson of the United States Army’s 2nd Infantry Division and Deputy Commander of the RUCD, the Republic of Korea United States Combined Division, told CNN.
“The greater the threat, the greater the alliance, or the greater the threat, the greater the alliance,” Anderson said, before U.S. and South Korean tanks and artillery fired on targets that destroyed enemy troops, armor and positions at the Rodriguez Live Fire Complex. tucked in the mountains north of Seoul.
The commanders did not specifically name that enemy and said their exercise was defensive in nature, but the location – the firing range is just 30 kilometers (18 miles) south of the demilitarized zone that separates North and South Korea – left no doubt about existence to whom his message was addressed.
The South Korean commander of the combined division, Brig. Gene. Kim Nam-hoon, said the alliance between the US and ROK capitalizes on the strengths of both sides.
“The reason the CFC [Combined Forces Command] performing best on the Korean peninsula is due to the harmony between American capabilities and the Koreans’ knowledge of operations and geography,” Kim said.
The two allies brought this unique division together seven years ago to take advantage of it.
Forces ‘must be ready’
At a command center on a hill above the firing range, US and South Korean troops shared information about the target of the K-1 South Korean and M1 Abrams US tanks, as well as summoning artillery strikes from the South Korean K-9. and the US Palladin batteries out of sight behind a hill.
The command center shook with concussion five seconds after smoke appeared on the mountainside it faced, about a mile away.
The tanks fired concrete-filled dummy rounds that rose 600 meters [1,969 feet] up to 700 meters [2,297 feet] for them. The rounds hit hundreds of yards up the hill after hitting their tracks. That’s because, if they exploded as they would in a real battle, the targets would be destroyed with the first shot, one US officer said.
US and South Korean forces in the command center adjusted their fire as targets were knocked out and new ones appeared in the distance.
Computer screens flashed as targets were hit. Other views showed tank crews loading grenades into the tank’s gun and the gun recoiling as it fired.
“Nothing says certainty like military training,” Anderson said. “Both US and ROK troops must be ready.”
And to be sure, US and South Korean troops are increasing their preparedness.
A ‘special’ alliance
A live fire drill like Wednesday’s has not been seen since 2018, when then-US President Donald Trump put this kind of drill on hold and said such war games had no place while he was engaged in diplomatic talks with North Korea leader Kim. Jong-un.
But Trump, and his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in at the time, failed to end North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs. Their successors, Joe Biden and Yoon Suk Yeol, have taken a much harder line in the north.
With its missile tests and harsh rhetoric, North Korea shows it is not interested in talks, so combined exercises like Wednesday’s are imperative.
And they are a change from what the US military has experienced in actual combat at least for a long time, as in Iraq and Afghanistan the enemy’s weapons and tactics were very different from what a battle with North Korea might entail. .
“We didn’t stop looking at the Middle East, but we figured out how we fight” [and] could be [we] refocused on a near opponent,” Anderson said. A near peer opponent is one with similar weapons, power numbers, and tactics.
“If we are going to look at an almost similar opponent, we have to do more challenging adverse conditions. We have to do it with someone who is capable of inflicting damage on us,” he said.
The US and South Korean officers said they believe that cooperation could limit that damage.
“Interoperability is essential for effective combined operations,” said Kim, the South Korean general.
And the combined unit is backed by 72 years of history working together, Anderson said, harking back to the 1950-1953 Korean War.
“We’ve been here since the 1950s… It’s not uncommon to see second- or third-generation American military personnel on the Korean peninsula. And I’m telling you that because I don’t know of any other alliance that’s so special,” he said. he. .