DEVELOPING -- Largest ever US-South Korea military drill with 300,000 troops planned as a 'warning to Pyongyang'
The joint US-South Korean exercises scheduled for March will be largest military drills ever staged on the Korean Peninsula and are both a warning to Pyongyang and an effort to reassure the jittery public in the South.
The parallel Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises are scheduled to commence on March 7, with the field-training exercises that make up Foal Eagle lasting until April 30. The drills will involve 15,000 US troops, twice the number of previous years, and will serve to demonstrate Washington's firepower.
The US will deploy a combat aviation brigade to South Korea for the duration of the maneuvers, as well as a mobile US Marine brigade, an aircraft carrier and its attendant fleet, a nuclear-powered submarine and aeriel tankers to refuel fighter aircraft.
South Korea will commit some 290,000 personnel, including special forces, more than double its usual deployment for the annual drills.
The joint exercises will commence just weeks after North Korea carried out its fifth underground nuclear test and launched a rocket in what analysts claim was a disguised test of long-range ballistic missile technology.
In an additional shot across Pyongyang's bows, the drills will for the first time simulate scenarios in which the regime of Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, has collapsed.
The multiple-stage exercises will require the US and South Korean forces to react to war breaking out, operations in and around Pyongyang and the recovery of "key facilities that are located deep within North Korea", a Defence Ministry official told The Korea Herald.
North Korea's two rocket facilities are in the far north of the country, while analysts believe that many of its military assets are also concealed in networks of tunnels and bunkers close to the Chinese border.
This year's amphibious manoeuvres - known as the Ssangyong exercises - will be larger and more elaborate than ever before, with 7,000 US troops practicing coming ashore aboard Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft and from landing craft from the USS New Orleans.