South Korea and the United States are expected to kick off their annual summertime combined exercise next week in a scaled-back manner due to coronavirus concerns, a source said Tuesday.
The computer-simulated command post training will likely run from Aug. 16-28, the source said. In the run-up to the exercise, the two countries launched a four-day crisis management staff training (CMST) on Tuesday.
Defense ministry officials, however, declined to confirm the dates.
"The JCS is preparing to meet the training goals before beginning the main exercise," JCS spokesperson Col. Kim Jun-rak said during a regular press briefing.
Whether and how to conduct the annual summertime exercises have been a focus of attention as their springtime drills were postponed indefinitely due to the COVID-19 situation.
The two countries have decided to push ahead with the summertime drill, but it will be held in a reduced-scale, as American troops necessary for the exercise are unable to come to South Korea in large numbers due to the pandemic.
The two sets of exercises, which usually take place in March and August, are watched closely by North Korea and are related to preparations for Seoul to take back the wartime operational control (OPCON) of its forces from the US.
South Korea has called for a Full Operational Capability (FOC) test to be a key feature of the upcoming exercise for the envisioned OPCON transition, but a full assessment of the capability is expected to be difficult due to the current situation.
During the summertime exercise held in August 2019, Seoul and Washington conducted an initial operational capability (IOC) test, and their defense ministers decided to move on to the FOC test. Following the FOC test, the two sides will carry out a Full Mission Capability (FMC) test.
The Seoul government seeks to retake the OPCON under the current Moon Jae-in administration whose term will end in May 2022, though the transition is not time-based but conditions-based. (Yonhap)