U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Ronald Dave, pointing, of the Nebraska National Guard's 1704th Transportation Company directs soldiers as they carry a patient to the landing zone established for a Medevac mission at Fort McCoy, Wis., during the Patriot exercise, July 15, 2005. Patriot, the largest annual exercise held across the United States, increases the warfighting capabilities of the National Guard, reserve, and active components of the Air Force and Army. Additionally, the participation of Canadian, United Kingdom, and Dutch forces increases combined effectiveness. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Todd A. Pendleton
WASHINGTON, Aug. 16, 2010 – A 10-day warfighting exercise kicked off today to improve allied capabilities to deter and, if necessary, counter aggression against South Korea.
About 27,000 U.S. forces in South Korea, as well as about 3,000 U.S. servicemembers from the United States and its bases in the Pacific region, are participating in this year’s Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise, U.S. Forces Korea and Combined Forces Command officials reported.
They join more than 500,000 South Korean military and government participants, as well as multinational representatives in the CFC-led exercise to test their readiness to defend South Korea and promote stability across northwest Asia.
The exercise will “ensure that our alliance is prepared to respond to threats across the spectrum of conflicts, to include North Korean provocations,” officials said.
This year’s exercise is taking place amid heightened tensions since North Korea sunk the South Korean navy frigate Cheonan in March. It also occurs during commemorations of the 60th anniversary of the North Korean attack that launched the Korean War.
The South Korean-U.S. alliance has successfully deterred aggression on the Korean peninsula for 57 years, Army Gen. Walter L. “Skip” Sharp, who commands U.S. and United Nations forces in Korea, said in a message to his command before the exercise kicked off. He called Ulchi Freedom Guardian 10 “another opportunity for us to work together and demonstrate our resolve to ensuring regional stability.”
The exercise is the first since President Barack Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak announced the decision to delay the transition of wartime operational control of allied forces on the Korean peninsula to the South Korean military, Sharp noted. That transfer, originally scheduled for April 2012, has been moved to late 2015.
In the lead-up to that transition, Sharp called the exercise an opportunity to continue improving combat readiness and joint and combined interoperability between South Korean and U.S. forces.
“Like our combined exercises in the past, Ulchi Freedom Guardian affords the combined team an opportunity to continue to develop organizational structures and collaborate on command and control relationships between our militaries and our governments,” he said.
The scope of the exercise extends beyond the Korean peninsula, with many of the participants connected from outside Korea by communications and computer simulation networks.
“With units participating in Korea, throughout [U.S.] Pacific Command and at multiple locations across the United States, UFG 10 is one of the largest Joint Staff-directed exercises in the world,” Sharp said. “Like our combined exercises in the past, Ulchi Freedom Guardian affords the combined team an opportunity to develop organizational structures and collaborate on command and control relationships between our militaries and our governments.”
Although focusing on deterring aggression, the participants also are fine-tuning their coordinated warfighting capabilities, recognizing, officials said, that if deterrence fails, they must be ready to “fight tonight and prevail.”
Sharp called on his command to demonstrate discipline, dedication and teamwork during the exercise, which continues through Aug. 26.
“As we demonstrate our ability to successfully defend the Republic of Korea,” he said, “we ensure regional ability across northwest Asia and show the world that we remain an agile, adaptive force capable of taking on any challenge.”