The South Korean Air Force conducted its own combat drill on Monday in lieu of a suspended combined exercise with the United States, amid concerns that the continued halt of joint training might undermine the allies’ readiness posture.
According to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the South Korean Air Force kicked off a five-day combat drill to replace the Vigilant Ace exercise. The aviation drill was supposed to take place this month, but was suspended in October to support diplomatic efforts to address North Korea’s nuclear program.
While the US military did not participate in South Korea’s Combat Readiness Posture Comprehensive Training exercise, small-scale combined drills will take place between the two militaries’ battalion-level units and below, the JCS said.
“Through the exercise, South Korea’s Air Force maintains its combat readiness posture and improves pilots’ mission capability,” the JCS said in a text message sent to reporters.
Last year’s Vigilant Ace exercise was conducted “in the biggest-scale ever” in a show of force against North Korea’s intercontinental ballistic missile launch. About 230 US aircraft participated in the exercise, including two dozen stealth fighters.
The JCS said the new exercise will use a military data link system between South Korea and the US to minimize the effect of suspending Vigilant Ace, but declined to comment whether the system is connected to those on the US mainland.
While Defense Minister Jeong Kyung-doo and his US counterpart Jim Mattis agreed to suspend the annual Vigilant Ace exercise in October, speculation had been rampant that South Korea would come up with its own program to replace the joint exercise.
Following the announcement on suspending Vigilant Ace, a senior defense official told reporters that the South Korean defense chief had come up with a training program that can achieve an effect similar to the suspended exercise.
Jeong, who had served as the Air Force chief of staff, told Mattis at the time that the air drill does not necessarily involve the massive commitment of air assets, therefore the exercise did not have to be suspended in its entirety, according to the official.
“Given the allies’ advanced command and control system, there is a way to conduct the exercise without putting all assets in one place,” said the official. “Minster Jeong told Mattis we could create a similar effect even 10,000 kilometers away (from the training area).”