South Korea and the United States have kicked off joint aerial drills, a military official in Seoul says, amid tensions over North Korea’s recent missile tests and calls for a restart of denuclearisation talks
The exercises, previously called Vigilant Ace, once mobilised tens of thousands of troops and hundreds of cutting-edge fighter jets, bombers and other warplanes.
But the program has been scaled back since 2017 to facilitate talks aimed at ending Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs in return for US sanctions relief.
The allies began the drills, which will last five days, without announcing or naming them.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said some 100 aircraft were dispatched from each side, including South Korea’s F-15Ks and KF-16s and US F-16s, but that no equipment or soldiers from the US mainland would join the exercises.
A South Korean air force spokesman declined to confirm the report.
The drills came after North Korea’s firing of a submarine-launched ballistic missile, the latest in a recent series of weapons tests.
Pyongyang considers exercises in the South as a rehearsal for war, and severed inter-Korean hotlines when the allies held regular summer training in August, accusing Seoul of “perfidious behaviour”.
The US envoy for North Korea, Sung Kim, slammed the weapons test as “concerning and counterproductive” during his visit to Seoul last week and urged Pyongyang to accept offers to talks.
The North has so far rebuffed US overtures, accusing Washington and Seoul of applying “double standards” by criticising its weapons programs while talking diplomacy and stoking tension with their own military activities.