The military of South Korea and the United States began on March 20 large-scale exercises Ssangyong to land amphibious assaults. Training started for the first time since 2018. They will be held near the city of Pohang on the coast of the Sea of Japan.

"The upcoming exercises will demonstrate the desire of the Alliance of South Korea and the United States to achieve 'peace through strength,' and we will further strengthen joint defense to protect South Korea," Yonhap news agency quoted the commander of the South Korean Marine Corps, Lieutenant General Kim Kye-hwan, as saying.

According to local media, citing the military of South Korea, the Navy and the Marine Corps are participating in the exercises on both sides. Ssangyong will last until April 3. The level of these trainings was increased from brigade to divisional: they involve about 30 ships, at least 70 aircraft, including F-35B fighters, AH-64 Apache attack helicopters and about 50 landing vehicles.

According to the Yonhap Agency, during the maneuvers, the US and South Korean military personnel will practice mine clearance, neutralization of a conditional enemy on land, fire cover for landings, sea and air landing. In addition, for the first time, 40 British marines will take part in Ssangyong, and the military from Australia, the Philippines and France will be present as observers, the agency writes.

"Against the backdrop of the desire of the previous administration of Moon Jae-in for inter-Korean rapprochement, the exercises have not been held since the conduct of maneuvers of this kind in 2018. Their resumption reflects the desire of allies to strengthen joint exercises in order to counter new nuclear and missile threats from North Korea, "Yonhap writes.

Recall that the Ssangyong training takes place as part of the larger Freedom Shield maneuvers.

On March 20, in addition to amphibious landing exercises, five-day maneuvers by Washington and Seoul also began at the Combat Training Center of South Korea. The training, according to media reports, is characterized by a "high level of realism and intensity" and is also part of the Freedom Shield exercises. According to Yonhap, the United States in these maneuvers will use a battalion-level unit, Stryker armored vehicles, and South Korea - wheeled armored vehicles and reconnaissance drones.

The day before, as part of freedom shield, the United States used a B-1B strategic bomber in the airspace of the Korean Peninsula. In addition, F-16 aircraft of the US Air Force and F-35A stealth fighters of South Korea conducted joint flights in the region.

"The Republic of Korea and the United States demonstrate a reliable joint defensive position and practical implementation (of the principle. — RT) extended deterrence. During the exercises, the activities of the forces of both countries were evaluated, which continue to strengthen interoperability, expand the ability to deploy flexible response forces and build up a reliable potential for strategic strikes in wartime, "the press release on the website of the US Armed Forces in South Korea (USFK) reports.

  • Exercises in the framework of the Freedom Shield maneuvers
  • © Ministry of National Defence of the Republic of Korea

As noted in the statement, the alliance of Seoul and Washington always maintains the "highest level of readiness."

"The recent missile launches of the DPRK are a characteristic example of the destabilizing impact of Pyongyang's illegal programs to create weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles. The alliance of South Korea and the United States maintains peace through strength, trust and reliable joint defense, "the report says.

Recall that the joint largest in the last five years military exercises of Washington and Seoul Freedom Shield started on March 13 in South Korea and should end this week. As noted in a post on the U.S. Marine Corps website, the training includes both a computer simulation and "engaging real capabilities." According to the Yonhap news agency, the large-scale Freedom Shield exercise consists of a total of more than 20 trainings, including amphibious maneuvers and training in conducting special operations. According to media reports, the training is aimed at strengthening the defense potential of the parties, taking into account the changing security situation and the "aggression" of the DPRK.

Pyongyang's reaction

Pyongyang has already responded to the Freedom Shield exercises, having previously promised to take practical measures of military deterrence in response to "provocations by the United States and South Korea" that "have come to a red line."

So, after the start of training in Seoul and Washington, the DPRK performed a series of ballistic missile launches towards the Sea of Japan. Two ICBMs were launched on March 14, two days later, under the leadership, according to media reports, of north Korean leader Kim Jong-un, the Hwasong-17 ICBM was launched, and on March 19, Pyongyang launched another ballistic missile.

As the North Korean leader explained after these trainings, the DPRK should be ready to use nuclear weapons. Kim Jong-un addressed this thesis primarily to the United States and South Korea, accusing the two countries of increasing the number of large-scale exercises involving American nuclear forces. As he stressed, the more military training expands, "the more irreparable the threat becomes."

As stated in the message of the Central Telegraph Agency of Korea (KCNA), these maneuvers simulated a tactical nuclear strike on the "important target" of a conditional enemy. It is also noted that the recent exercises of the DPRK were aimed at improving the tactical nuclear potential of the country, as well as at confirming the "maneuverability and reliability" of such deterrents. Pyongyang stressed that the training did not have a negative impact on the security of neighboring countries.

"Can't help but be disturbing"

According to Vladimir Shapovalov, deputy director of the Institute of History and Politics of the Moscow State Pedagogical University, despite the DPRK's retaliatory measures, the United States continues to use the territory of South Korea as a springboard for escalating tensions in the region, "which Washington needs to promote its geopolitical interests."

"The Ssangyong maneuvers as part of the even larger Freedom Shield training are quite dangerous, the United States is doing everything to strengthen the confrontation with the DPRK. In addition, Washington, conducting such maneuvers, probably keeps in sight the Chinese direction. The Americans and South Koreans are practicing, in fact, an imitation of attacking actions against neighboring states, be it the DPRK or China. The training is very large, including judging by the involved types of armed forces, weapons and military transport. Of course, all this can not but inspire concern, "the analyst said in a comment to RT.

Shapovalov also said that the Ssangyong and Freedom Shield exercises are part of Washington's strategy to "put together a regional military-political grouping by the United States" directed against the DPRK and China.

"After all, not only the United States and South Korea take part in the maneuvers – they were also joined by the UNITED KINGDOM, Australia, the Philippines and France. Almost all of these states, the Americans want to involve in the creation of an "East Asian NATO," the expert noted.

  • Ministry of Defense of South Korea
  • AP
  • © Ahn Young-joon

According to Alexander Zhebin, a leading researcher at the Center for Korean Studies at the Institute of China and Modern Asia of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the United States, by increasing the scale and intensity of exercises in the region, deliberately continues to exacerbate the situation on the Korean Peninsula, despite repeated warnings from the DPRK to respond to such actions.

"The scale of the Ssangyong exercise has been expanded by the United States and South Korea. No wonder the level of training was raised from brigade to divisional. At the same time, the Americans and South Koreans constantly talk about some kind of North Korean threat. But it's not North Korean planes that continuously cruise along the U.S. borders and monitor the situation — it's American reconnaissance fighters that are always at the borders of North Korea, as are military vessels. The aggressively provocative nature of the US-South Korean maneuvers is obvious, "the expert said in an interview with RT.

According to Zhebin, the operations announced as part of Ssangyong's training are "clearly offensive in nature."

"For many years, the Americans have been using the so-called North Korean missile threat to keep their troops and bases near the DPRK and China, to practice offensive actions near these countries. In fact, this is a planned preparation for aggression against countries whose foreign and even domestic policy for some reason does not suit the Americans, who are accustomed to the fact that all countries unquestioningly follow the instructions coming from Washington, "the analyst said.

As Zhebin explained, the North Koreans see their missile weapons as the only means available to them to deter American attempts to "export democracy to Korean soil."

"The DPRK is taking increased precautions and trying to show the United States and South Korea that it is ready to defend itself and it has the means to do so. That's where Pyongyang's recent frequent missile launches come from. The DPRK is doing what it can under the current conditions to ensure its security. At the same time, Pyongyang is ready to constructively discuss with the United States issues of mutual interest, since it does not lose hope that sober heads will prevail in America, who will understand the hopelessness of the demands from the DPRK for unilateral disarmament, denuclearization without any guarantees, "the analyst concluded.