Tensions Rise as Largest US-South Korea Military Exercise Kicks Off

July 26, 2010 Updated: October 1, 2015

A U.S. fighter takes off from the flight deck of USS George Washington during a joint military exercises at east sea on July 26, 2010 in South Korea. (Song Kyung-Seok-pool/Getty Images)
A U.S. fighter takes off from the flight deck of USS George Washington during a joint military exercises at east sea on July 26, 2010 in South Korea. (Song Kyung-Seok-pool/Getty Images)
The US-South Korea conducted anti-submarine exercise on July 26, the second day of their joint military exercise.

The organizers said that more than 20 naval vessels, including the aircraft carrier USS George Washington, and Asia’s largest landing ship Dokdo, participated in the drill.

Code-named "Invincible Spirit," the 4-day joint exercise kicked off in the East Sea on July 25. It will mobilize from the two nations more than 8,000 military personnel, some 200 aircrafts, a fleet of more than 20 submarines and ships, including the nuclear-powered U.S. aircraft carrier USS George Washington, 3 guided-missile destroyers: USS McCampbell, USS John S. McCain and USS Lassen; as well as South Korea’s Dokdo amphibious landing ship, KDX-I-class destroyer, and KDX-II-class destroyer, according to Yonhap News Agency’s report on July 26.

The exercise is considered the largest ever U.S-South Korea joint military exercise, according to Korean media.

The drill is also the first to employ four F-22 stealth fighters, the world’s most advanced aircraft. The F-22 is capable of attacking North Korea’s nuclear facilities in Yongbyon within 30 minutes of taking off, and can carry out mission covering the entire North Korea in an hour. It can even break through China’s air defense network.

North Korea and China strongly opposed the exercise. North Korea’s Central News Agency quoted the statement from the National Defense Commission as saying that the military exercises are “undisguised challenge” to the international community’s hopes to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula. It also said North Korea will “legitimately counter with their powerful nuclear deterrence the largest-ever nuclear war exercises to be staged by the U.S. and the South Korean puppet forces.”

South Korea’s Chosun Iibo reported that China had mobilized various scout planes, airborne warning and control systems, submarines and even reconnaissance satellites to gather intelligence. On July 19, China Central Television made an unusual report on the submarine missile launch training that took place in the sea near Shandong Province. On July 18 and 19, China staged a drill for a wartime emergency transport in the West Sea. It has been reported that China also put in the latest 7,000 to 8,000-ton destroyers that has the “carrier killer” cruise missiles in response to the U.S. deploying USS George Washington in its joint military exercise with South Korea.

Chosun Iibo’s report also stated that there are views that this is the first time since the Cold War that a military confrontation is taking place surrounding the Korean peninsula. Lee Sang-hyun, the Director of Security Studies Program of South Korea’s Sejong Institute, said “Including this West Sea exercise, China seems to demonstrate that the Korean Peninsula is under China’s influence. The stronger China is, the bigger voice it will have on the Korean Peninsula issue.”

The Japanese Naval Self Defense Force, however, were invited by the U.S. and South Korea to observe the exercise and sent four maritime self-defense officers to board the USS George Washington.

Japan’s influential Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper said in its editorial that the international community needs to have strong inhibitory power on potential threats from North Korea. Japan’s Sankei Shimbun newspaper published an editorial on its Sunday edition entitled “The joint U.S.-South Korea Military Exercise is a great opportunity for consolidating the unity of Japan, U.S., and South Korea,” praising the dispatch of the self-defense officials to participate in the joint exercise.

Yonhap News Agency said that the four-day drill includes network warfare defense, fuel supply and command and control, anti-submarine training, and air refueling and joint combat training, inter alia. The exercise region included the North Limit Line.

To prevent further incidents similar to the sinking of the Cheonan warship, the two nations will carry out anti-submarine training similar to actual shooting between submarines on July 27.

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the South Korea’s Defense Minister Kim Tae-Young said in a joint statement that the drill is meant to “send a clear message to North Korea that its aggressive behavior must stop.”