February 03, 2020 13:39
The South Korean military is mulling joint exercises with U.S. troops in California, which would require a large operation transporting tanks and other equipment there.
Large-scale joint drills here were suspended after the first U.S.-North Korea summit in June 2018, and frontline artillery training has been scrapped under an inter-Korean military agreement from September 2018.
"The government hopes to transport tanks and artillery by ship to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin in the Mojave Desert in California to conduct practical training with U.S. troops," a government source said Sunday. "This will cost a lot and won't happen until 2022," the source added.
So far South Korea has sent only 10 to 200 troops a year to Fort Irwin, rising to 300 this year.
A military source said, "There have been fewer field drills above the regimental level and, among other things, fewer training exercises using tanks and armored vehicles in compliance with the inter-Korean military agreement and an agreement signed at the U.S.-North Korean summit."
Military authorities say the plan is aimed at improving the effectiveness of joint training with a U.S. military unit that will be deployed with the U.S. Forces Korea on regular rotation to take advantage of the superior facilities at Fort Irwin.
But observers suspect this is merely an expensive way of compensating for the closure of artillery training sites here. It will probably cost billions of won to send scores of tanks and self-propelled guns on landing ships to the U.S. mainland (US$1=W1,188).
Former Joint Chiefs of Staff deputy chairman Shin Won-sik said, "I doubt the effectiveness, because there are big differences between the terrains and climates of the Korean Peninsula and the Californian desert."
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