The Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Republic of Korea and the United States Strategic Command agreed to conduct joint exercises in May in preparation for potential nuclear attacks from North Korea, using all available military capabilities, including the U.S. nuclear umbrella. The military authorities of the two countries will discuss and examine specific plans on the strategy of the nuclear umbrella and the U.S.’s strategic assets in an aggressive response to North Korea’s nuclear provocation scenario composed of nuclear threat, imminent nuclear attack, and nuclear attack.
On Wednesday, the South Korean defense ministry reported to President Yoon that the two countries’ militaries would stage separate tabletop exercises (TTX) in 2023 to reinforce interoperable response capabilities of extended deterrence. Tabletop drills are military exercises where South Korea and U.S. defense officials gather and discuss response measures against the North’s nuclear attack scenario. In February, the TTX between the defense authorities, which the two countries agreed back in November 2022 to hold regularly, will be conducted. Still, it was held only twice under the Moon Jae-in administration, in 2019 and 2021, respectively.
While the tabletop trills set to be held in February will focus on defense strategies to counter the North’s nuclear attack, the exercise in May is meaningful in that it is held at the military division level for the first time, where more specific joint military responses will be discussed, including the use of the full range of military capabilities, such as the deployment of the U.S.’s strategic assets. “While the previous tabletop exercises were more of a strategic, policy-level framework, the one we are planning to hold in May will be far more concrete and substantive than the February programs,” South Korean defense minister Lee Jong-sup told a news conference. A government official familiar with the matter also commented that the upcoming nuclear tabletop drills demonstrate the Yoon Suk Yeol administration’s resolve to strengthen extended deterrence.
President Yoon also mentioned in an interview with the AP that the tabletop drills in 2023 will include exercises on the operation of nuclear delivery vehicles, indicating that there will be more frequent joint exercises between the military organizations of the two countries, with the actual deployment of the U.S. tactical nuclear assets, such as strategic bombers and nuclear-powered submarines, to the Korean Peninsula.
The South Korean military also announced that it would launch the first reconnaissance satellite in the second half of 2023, which will play as the "eye" of the kill chain system to more quickly identify and respond to the North’s nuclear and missile threats. The South Korean military expects that its capability would be significantly enhanced in detecting signs of the North’s provocations, where South Korea has been relying on the U.S.’s satellites so far, once its five 800-kg spy satellites are all successfully put into orbit progressively by 2025. Furthermore, South Korea and the U.S. plan to revise their tailored deterrence strategy, devised in 2013, after 10 years, which will serve as a guideline for future military operations so that the strategy better copes with North Korea’s advanced nuclear and missile capabilities.
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