S.Korea-U.S. Naval Drill to Take Place in East Sea

Korean Defense Minister Kim Tae-young (right) and his U.S. counterpart Robert Gates walk behind a security guard at the Defense Ministry in Seoul on Tuesday. /Reuters-Newsis Korean Defense Minister Kim Tae-young (right) and his U.S. counterpart Robert Gates walk behind a security guard at the Defense Ministry in Seoul on Tuesday. /Reuters-Newsis

South Korea and the U.S. will conduct a joint drill in the East Sea only, abandoning plans for an exercise in the West Sea in response to North Korea's sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan there. The defense ministers of the two countries made the announcement in a meeting Tuesday.

Named "Invincible Spirit," the exercise will last four days from Sunday and involve over 200 fighter jets including four F-22 stealth fighters, 8,000 forces, and 20 warships including the U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier George Washington and South Korea's 14,000-ton transport ship Dokdo, a military spokesman said.

The original plan to hold an exercise in the West Sea met with a barrage of protests from China, which does not want a massive U.S. military presence on its doorstep.

The drill will consist of an e-warfare simulation with members from the U.S. Cyber Command, an aerial refueling and bombing exercise by the Air Force, command control training by the Marines and a Navy anti-submarine exercise.

Seoul and Washington claim they will hold several joint drills in the East and West Seas in the months to come, including an anti-submarine exercise in the West Sea in early September.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters after visiting Camp Casey in Dongducheon, Gyeonggi Province that the naval exercises poses no threat to China.

"These are exercises like we have conducted for decades. We have conducted them in both the West and East seas, so there’s nothing provocative about them at all," he said. "These exercises are off the coast of Korea, not off the coast of China," he added.

Gates is to tour the demilitarized zone on Wednesday alongside U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is also here for the "two plus two" meeting of defense and foreign ministers. Gates told U.S. soldiers the tour is "a gesture of solidarity with our [South] Korean allies and a recognition that the issues of missile and nuclear proliferation in the North continue to be serious challenges for us and our allies, and we intend to take them seriously."

englishnews@chosun.com / Jul. 21, 2010 13:25 KST