As the United States and South Korea observe the 59th anniversary of the armistice that brought an unofficial end to the Korean War, their forces are sharpening their defensive capabilities through the Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise.
More than 30,000 U.S. and South Korean service members are participating in what Army Gen. James D. Thurman, commander of Combined Forces Command, called “a key exercise in strengthening the readiness” of the two militaries.
Named in honor of a Korean military leader who repelled an invasion by China’s Sui dynasty in the 7th century, Ulchi Freedom Guardian 12 kicked off Aug. 20 and continues through next week.
Seven United Nations Command states also are participating: Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Norway, officials said.
One of two annual Combined Forces Command peninsula-wide exercises, Ulchi Freedom Guardian is centered on readiness, deterrence and the ability to defend South Korea.
Driven by computer-assisted simulation, it is designed so senior leaders can exercise their decision-making capabilities, U.S. Forces Korea officials said, while also training commanders and staffs from both nations in combined planning, command and control operations, military intelligence, logistics and personnel procedures.
“It is based on realistic scenarios and enables us to train on our essential tasks with a ‘whole of government’ approach,” Thurman said.
Ulchi Freedom Guardian is part of an ongoing focus on strengthening the U.S.-South Korea alliance while preparing South Korea to assume wartime operational control of its forces from the United States in 2015, officials said.
Thurman told the House Appropriations Committee this spring the U.S.-South Korea alliance is “as solid as ever,” and said it serves as the foundation for the combined readiness of the two militaries. The general said he and his South Korean military counterparts are guiding military leaders and units of both militaries “to work and train closely with one another on a daily basis, and that effort builds combined strength, faith, and trust — qualities that are essential for us to successfully accomplish our mission in Korea.”
Training exercises like Ulchi Freedom Guardian, carried out in the spirit of the Oct. 1, 1953, ROK-U.S. Mutual Defense Treaty and in accordance with the armistice, advance those efforts, U.S. Forces Korea officials said.
“These exercises also highlight the longstanding military partnership, commitment and enduring friendship between the two nations, help to ensure peace and security on the peninsula and reaffirm the U.S. commitment to the Northeast Asia region,” they said.
Ulchi Freedom Guardian 2012 comes at a time of transition on the peninsula, with the new and relatively untested North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, continuing Pyongyang’s pursuit of nuclear weapons in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Navy Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, commander of U.S. Pacific Command, told American Forces Press Service he considers North Korea the most pressing trouble spot in Pacom’s vast area of responsibility.
“If there is anything that keeps me awake at night, it’s that particular situation,” the admiral said. “We have to ensure that we maintain as much of a stable environment on the Korean peninsula as we can.”
Toward that end, Locklear relies heavily on Thurman’s leadership to ensure that South Korean and U.S. forces remain strong. In March, he emphasized the importance of the U.S.-South Korean alliance in deterring aggression and maintaining security and stability and offered assurances of an “unwaverable” U.S. commitment to the alliance.