Ulchi Freedom Shield exercise to begin on Monday
South Korea and the United States are scheduled to commence a major combined military and civil exercise on Monday to strengthen their joint preparedness in the face of North Korea’s advancing military and cyber threats.
The allies’ annual Ulchi Freedom Shield (UFS) exercise, which is set to kick off on Monday and last until Aug. 31, will involve over 58,000 South Korean and U.S. troops and feature various drills, including a computer simulation-based command post exercise, simultaneous large-scale field training and Ulchi civil defense drills involving different agencies across the South Korean government.
This year’s exercise will feature a total of 30 joint field training drills by the allies, five more than the Freedom Shield exercise held in March this year and 17 more than the number held during last year’s UFS exercise, according to the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff.
This year’s UFS will also include training to prepare troops to shift quickly into fighting mode should active hostilities break out, as well as to identify false information disseminated by North Korea in wartime or other emergencies.
In a first, the U.S. Space Forces Korea, which launched in December last year, will also participate in the joint exercise alongside U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine personnel, according to United States Forces Korea (USFK).
Service members from nine other member states of the United Nations Command, which oversees and maintains the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War, will also participate in this year’s UFS exercise.
The countries are Australia, Canada, France, Britain, Greece, Italy, New Zealand, the Philippines and Thailand, according to the USFK.
The Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission, which has monitored past annual exercises by South Korea and the United States, will also attend the drills.
The South Korean military said it is strengthening its defensive posture against increased military activity by Pyongyang during the exercise.
The North has long objected to the allies’ annual military drills, accusing them of rehearsing for an invasion of its territory. South Korea and the United States denied the accusation, arguing the drills are defensive in nature.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has also recently upped tensions on the peninsula by calling for a “drastic boost” in the country’s missile production capacity and upgrading his regime’s “offensive” capabilities.
South Korea’s National Intelligence Service told lawmakers on Thursday during a closed-door briefing that the North is preparing various “provocative” acts during the allies’ joint exercise, such as an intercontinental ballistic missile launch.
Meanwhile, Gyeonggi Nambu Police Precinct said on Sunday a North Korean hacking group known as Kimsuky attempted to hack a South Korean company that provides computer simulation support to South Korean and U.S. militaries during their command post exercise.
The hackers successfully stole the login details for an e-mail account belonging to one of the company’s employees, obtaining personal details of company employees and infecting a personal computer with a malicious code, but failed to hack the USFK command post in charge of operating the simulation-based exercise.
BY MICHAEL LEE [email@example.com]