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S. Korea, U.S. initiate annual springtime drill Updated: 2021-03-08 14:55:00 KST

The South Korean and U.S. militaries have initiated their annual springtime drills today a move that's expected to trigger criticism from North Korea.
For more, our Defense Ministry correspondent Kim Ji-yeon joins us.
Ji-yeon, the exercise is scaled-back compared to previous ones?

That's right.
The computer-simulated Combined Command Post Training which started today is to take place for nine weekdays until March 18th.
It's been drastically shortened compared to the previous springtime drills which normally run around-the-clock for around two weeks.
The South Korean military says the training involves a "minimal level of troops" given the coronavirus situation and no outdoor drills will take place.

"There's limitations to assessing the military's full operational capability due to various factors such as COVID-19, the combined defense posture and the overall situation regarding the Korea peace process. This is why this training will include a run-though of theater operations led by a future Combined Forces Command under the leadership of a four-star Korean general."

The two allies are believed to have agreed to try to carry out the rest of the Full Operational Capability test, a prerequisite for the envisioned conditions-based transfer of wartime operational control from Washington to Seoul during the summertime exercise in the second half of this year.

There have been criticisms among South Korean local media that without the ability to carry out the FOC test this time, the envisioned transfer would also be postponed.

That's right.
It's undeniably a major setback for South Korea's Defense Minister Suh Wook, who had vowed to make significant progress in the envisioned OPCON transfer during his term.
He had emphasized that the COVID-19 situation is the major factor in the scale-back of the exercises but the two allies have not included outdoor drills in major exercises since 2019 as part of efforts to not instigate conflict with North Korea.
The North has long opposed the exercises denouncing them as rehearsals for invasion despite the South reiterating that the exercises are regular and defensive in nature.

Has North Korea responded to the recent drills?

North Korea has not yet responded to the latest drills despite them being reported by the South Korean media yesterday.
But we'll have to see since the North has up until now used the combined exercises as an excuse to conduct its own tests of ballistic missiles and weaponry.
It's almost certain the North will respond but the tone used by Pyeongyang this time could serve as an important barometer for the Biden administration in how it'll deal with the North Korean denuclearization issue.
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