The Navy has steadily scaled back exercises using live ammunition since President Moon Jae-in took office in 2017, a lawmaker said, amid concerns that Moon’s North Korea policy could affect combat readiness.
Live ammunition was used 96 percent of the time in 2016, but the rate has since slowly fallen and hit 87 percent in 2020, according to Rep. Shin Won-sik of the main opposition People Power Party, citing data compiled by the Navy.
The data was an average of the rates that live ammunition was employed for each drill involving aircraft, ships and ground troops.
Aircraft drills saw the largest drop in ammunition deployment, going from 99 percent in 2016 to 85 percent in 2020, while in the same period the rate fell from 94 percent to 82 percent for ship exercises.
The rate decline was lowest for drills with ground troops, which used live ammunition 87 percent of the time in 2020, compared to 96 percent in 2016.
“The Navy really needs to step up efforts to run more real simulations,” said Shin, who served as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The Navy refused to acknowledge that it cut back on any drills for the last five years, saying it had run them as planned. But this is not the first time the Navy has been accused of holding back drills to avoid provoking North Korea as the Moon administration attempts to resume dialogue suspended in 2018.
A week earlier, Rep. Han Ki-ho of the People Power Party found that the Navy has cut back on its submarine drills with the US since 2018, when Moon met with the North Korean leader three times and began to expand on his initiative to open more peace talks.
But North Korea rehearsed submarine attacks on South Korea even as the two neighbors held talks that year, and the South Korean Navy, which was aware of the activity, decided not to make it public, according to Rep. Han, who described Pyongyang as dead set on infiltration.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said Monday that he does not see South Korea and the US as “the enemy,” though he made it clear that he would continue improving military capabilities as part of self-defense, a reference Kim uses to back the regime’s expanding nuclear arsenal.
Kim also reiterated conditions for a return to dialogue, which require Seoul and Washington to drop sanctions, among other priorities. The South Korean national security adviser, who is willing to compromise on sanctions, is meeting with his US counterpart this week to coordinate their response.
By Choi Si-young (firstname.lastname@example.org