Washington (US), May 27: Joint military drills are a key measure to ensure the readiness of South Korean and U.S. forces, a Pentagon spokesman said Wednesday, even as the pandemic has thrown the timetable out the window.
The spokesman noted the scope and timing of future exercises will be determined through close consultation between the two allies.
"Military readiness is a top priority of the Secretary of Defense. Our combined military training events are a principal method of ensuring our combined Alliance readiness," Lt. Col. Martin Meiners told Yonhap News Agency in an email.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Wednesday (Seoul time) noted a field exercise may be unlikely for the combined forces of South Korea and the United States in the near future due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"I believe it may be difficult for a large number of troops to undergo a field exercise like in the past due to current conditions," Moon said while meeting with the heads of five largest political parties in South Korea on the outcome of his meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden in Washington last week.
Seoul and Washington last held a joint military exercise in March, but it was largely virtual due to the pandemic. Their regular joint military drills have largely remained computer-simulated desktop exercises since the start of the pandemic last year.
North Korea, however, continues to strongly denounce the joint military exercises as war rehearsals.
The allies have another regular joint military drill scheduled to start in August.
"These training events are non-provocative, defensive in nature, and are intended to maintain alliance readiness to ensure we are ready to 'fight tonight,' the Defense Department spokesman said, using the slogan for U.S forces in Korea. "Any decision on the scope, scale, and timing of exercises will be made bilaterally with these factors in mind."
Seoul's defense ministry spokesperson Boo Seung-chan said that the upcoming combined summertime exercise is supposed to be conducted without outdoor drills.
"The summertime program is supposed to take the form of the computer-simulated command post exercise (CPX), though the springtime exercise involves outdoor drills in principle. It is in accordance with the long-held agreement made by the two nations," Boo told a regular briefing.
The United States has some 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea.