It has been confirmed that South Korea and the U.S. conducted their joint air exercises in December last year and did not disclose it to the public. This is the first time that the holding of the annual joint exercises was not made public since they were first carried out in December 2015. There is criticism from in and outside the military that the South Korean government did not disclose it in order not to stimulate North Korea during the power transition period in the U.S.
According to the data submitted to Rep. Kang Dae-sik of the People Power Party from the Air Force on Tuesday, the ROK-US joint air exercises were held for five days from Dec. 7 through Dec. 11. About 90 fighter jets from South Korea, such as F-15K and KF-16 and 60 from the U.S., including F-16 took part in the exercises. It is known that F-22 stealth fighter jets from the U.S., which normally take off from the U.S. air base in Japan, were not able to participate in the exercises. A military official said the exercises were held on reduced scale din part due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The combined aerial drill, which was first held in 2015 under the name “Vigilant ACE,” is the largest joint air training between South Korea and the U.S. that includes striking of major enemy targets, air infiltration and defense, and aviation support for ground forces. In particular, the drill is designed to practice the ability to execute the Prepositioned Air Tasking Order (Pre-ATO) performance, which is a joint military plan that assigns missions to fighter jets from the two countries so that they can strike hundreds of key North Korean targets at once.
The military has drastically scaled back the exercise since 2018 in order to support denuclearization talks between the U.S. and North Korea and changed the name to Comprehensive Combat Readiness Training. The drill was scaled back to include only 100 fighter jets from the two countries in 2018 and was even skipped in 2019, and postponed to 2020. A military official said there are growing concerns even within the military that a drill essential for the security of the Korean Peninsula is being neglected.
Most of all, there is a lot of talk about the fact the holding of the exercise was not even disclosed this year while the South Korean government continues to scale back the joint drill on the grounds of improving inter-Korean relations. The South Korean military seems to have decided to conduct the joint drill behind closed doors ahead of major political events in North Korea, such as the eighth Congress of the Workers’ Party of Korea and Supreme People’s Assembly this month. In April last year, about 140 fighter jets from South Korea and the U.S. conducted a joint air drill they skipped in 2019 but this was not made public either. “Considering potential threats from Chinese and Russian fighter jets, which recently entered the KADIZ, as well as from North Korea, ROK-US joint air drills should expanded,” said Rep. Kang.
Kyu-Jin Shin email@example.com