October 17, 2018 13:24
South Korea has suspended since April both live-fire drills of K-9 self-propelled howitzers and joint South Korea-U.S. marine drills on the northwesternmost islands off North Korea's coast in the West Sea.
The Chunmoo multiple rocket launchers with a range of about 80 km and Israeli-made Spike missiles with a range of 25 km have also not seen any practice since April although they have a vital role in countering North Korean artillery.
The two Koreas agreed at their summit in Pyongyang last month to suspend artillery drills in the buffer sea zone including the islands from November. But in fact they have already been suspended on the southern side of the border for six months in an attempt to pacify the North around the time of an inter-Korean summit in April.
Military insiders worry that the Northwest Islands Defense Command, which was established in 2011 to deal effectively with local provocations by the North like the previous year's shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, has effectively been incapacitated.
When the K-9 live-fire drills on the islands were suspended, soldiers traveled all the way to the mainland to train to fill the vacuum, a government source said Tuesday.
The howitzers with a range of 40 km are thought to be the most effective weapon to deal with the North's provocations. Normally, live-fire drills of some 30 K-9s on Baeknyeong and Yeonpyeong have been held three or four times a year.
Instead, military authorities are sending K-9 operators on a ship to the 2nd Marine Division in Gimpo, Gyeonggi Province so that they can train there. But the K-9s from the marine division are conducting live-fire drills at a South Korean drill ground in Yeoncheon or at a U.S. military drill ground in Pocheon, both in Gyeonggi Province, rather than over water.
"K-9 operators should practice with their own howitzers on the islands to feel quite at home with their weapons," a military source said. "It's not good enough to train with other K-9s at another unit."
The detachments on the islands have also trained with Chunmoo multiple rocket launchers three or four times a year and with Spike missiles about twice a year. Military authorities now want to send the Chunmoo and Spike operators to the mainland for training as well.
South Korea-U.S. marines drills on the islands have been conducted about four times a year to deter the North from launching further provocations since the shelling of Yeonpyeong. But now the drills are conducted in Pohang, which is totally different terrain.
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