SEOUL — Details of this year’s U.S.-South Korea Ulchi Freedom Guardian military exercise have been announced, setting the stage for North Korea to show whether its approach to war games south of the border has changed in the wake of a recent shakeup of its military leadership.
U.S. Forces Korea announced Monday that the annual exercise will run Aug. 20-31.
Ulchi Freedom Guardian is traditionally a largely computer-based exercise, but U.S. military officials in Seoul said recently that it will also serve as the first big test of MRAPs — Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles — that have been delivered to the peninsula.
Officials have said more than 80 MRAPs will be tested for up to a year to determine if they should permanently be incorporated into the U.S. military’s plansin South Korea.
“Ulchi Freedom Guardian is a key exercise to strengthen the readiness of [South Korean] and U.S. forces,” USFK commander Gen. James D. Thurman said in a news release. “It is based on realistic scenarios and enables us to train on our essential tasks.”
As it does every year, the U.S. and South Korea have notified North Korea of the dates for the exercise and the “non-provocative nature of this training.”
And, if history is any indication, North Korea will likely condemn the exercise in the weeks ahead as a threat to peace on the peninsula.
Last year, prior to the Ulchi Guardian Freedom exercise, the North wrote in an “open letter” to the U.S. and South Korea, “Nothing is more shameless political artifice than showing such poor double-dealing tactics as making preparations for a war behind the scene, while paying lip-service to peace and dialogue.”
The exercise would, the North said, “only keep the evil cycle of mistrust and confrontation, and this is bound to lead to war.”
The announcement of the dates for Ulchi Freedom Guardian comes just days after North Korean army Vice Marshal Ri Yong Ho was relieved of several prominent government and military positions, reportedly due to his poor health, and leader Kim Jong Un assumed the title of marshal.
A number of South Korean government and military officials have since been quoted as saying they are bracing for some sort of provocative act from North Korea related to that government upheaval.