March 02, 2017 13:22
South Korea and the U.S. kicked off joint annual military drills on Wednesday that amount to an unusually heavy show of force against North Korea.
The drills, dubbed "Foal Eagle" for reasons lost in time, will carry on until late April and involve a fleet led by the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, as well as F-35B vertical takeoff and landing stealth aircraft.
Surveillance is at a maximum amid fears that North Korea will launch a fresh provocation to protest at the huge military presence on its doorstep. A military spokesman said the drills feature the biggest military arsenal in their history.
"Foal Eagle" is a field training exercise, including landing drills, while a simultaneous exercise called "Key Resolve" focuses on computer-based simulation.
"Key Resolve" will this time include practicing preemptive strikes, a decapitation exercise targeting the North Korean leadership, and intercepting North Korean missiles using a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense battery that will be deployed in North Gyeongsang Province.
About 3,600 U.S. troops and some 300,000 South Korean soldiers will be taking part, over 10,000 more troops than last year.
The USS Carl Vinson is expected in mid-March stacked with 80 aircraft including the FA-18E/F Super Hornet jet fighters and E-2 Hawkeye early warning and control aircraft. The U.S. Marines' F-35Bs from a military base in Japan will participate for the first time. The vertical takeoff and landing stealth aircraft can be carried on an amphibious assault ship and attack targets by avoiding radar detection.
Meanwhile, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un recently visited the command post of a military unit tasked with defending Pyongyang, where he ordered troops to step up preparations to fight, the official [North] Korean Central News Agency reported Wednesday.
The regime has reportedly begun preparations for a vast military parade marking the 85th anniversary of the North Korean Army on April 25. "Kim Jong-un has instructed officials to make this year's parade the biggest ever in response to the joint South Korea-U.S. exercises," a military source here said.
A rehearsal for the parade is taking place at Mirim Airport in Pyongyang with about 6,000 troops. More than 20,000 troops are expected to be mobilized for the actual parade.
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