Wednesday, July 21, 2010

U.S. and South Korean defense leaders announce Exercise Invincible Spirit

by Jim Garamone, American Forces Press Service

SEOUL, South Korea (AFNS) -- Officials from the U.S. and South Korea announced July 20 a series of military exercises designed to send a strong, clear message to North Korea to stop its provocative and warlike acts.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and South Korean National Defense Minister Kim Tae-young released a joint statement on the exercises following meetings here.

The first in a series is a combined maritime and air readiness exercise named Invincible Spirit. About 8,000 U.S. and South Korean servicemembers will participate. The exercise is in response to the unprovoked attack on and sinking of the South Korean frigate, Cheonan, off the west coast of the peninsula. Forty-six South Korean sailors were killed in the North Korean torpedo attack on the vessel.

"This is the first in a series of (South Korean and) U.S. combined naval exercises that will occur in both the East and West Seas," the two defense ministers said in their joint statement.

To Americans, the East Sea is the Yellow Sea and the West Sea is the Sea of Japan.

"These defensive, combined exercises are designed to send a clear message to North Korea that its aggressive behavior must stop, and that we are committed to together enhancing our combined defensive capabilities," the statement continued.

Navy Adm. Robert F. Willard, the commander of U.S. Pacific Command, said the exercise will begin at the conclusion of the Two-plus-Two meetings between the U.S. and South Korean ministers of defense and foreign affairs.

The exercise includes the USS George Washington Carrier Strike Group and South Korean Navy ships. Aircraft will come from the Seventh Air Force, the George Washington's Air Wing, the South Korean air force and South Korean anti-submarine aircraft.

The exercise will include F-22 Raptor aircraft training for the first time in the theater, Admiral Willard said.

"In all, over a hundred aircraft will fly in the event," Admiral Willard said. "The exercise will include a variety of training opportunities: flight operations from the carrier, there will be an air defense exercise, strike exercises and opportunities for passing exercises."

"Anti-submarine warfare is also included in the exercise with both South Korean and U.S. Navy ships and P-3 aircraft participating," he said.

At the end of the exercise, there will be a counter special forces exercise. "These occur with some frequency in both the East and West Seas, conducted by the (South Korean) and U.S. Navy," Admiral Willard said.

The exercise is part of a continuum of exercises that the U.S. and the South Korea hold.

The end of Invincible Spirit will coincide with the start of exercise Freedom's Guardian, Admiral Willard said.

The admiral said the exercises can be adjusted if North Korea agrees to stop future provocations.

Future exercises may be in the West Sea, Admiral Willard said.

The West Sea is an international waterway, and the U.S. is perfectly within its rights to exercise in that body of water.

Admiral Willard said he is not concerned about China's feeling about U.S. and South Korean naval exercises in that area.

"If I have a concern vis-a-vis China, it's that China exert itself to influence Pyongyang to see that incidents like Cheonan don't occur in the future," he said.

Deterring North Korea is problematic, said Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell.

"This is what makes North Korea so challenging, and at times, so confounding," Mr. Morrell said. "How do you gain leverage with a regime that doesn't care how it is viewed by the rest of world, and doesn't care how it treats its own people? At the same time, none of us wants to fight another war on the peninsula, and clearly none of us -- certainly the Chinese -- are interested in instability on the peninsula. So, this all combines to make this a challenge."