ABOARD USS KITTY HAWK — Over the next several days, thousands of sailors from eight U.S. Navy ships and about as many South Korean ships will test their skills through more than 100 operations as part of the Foal Eagle training exercise.

The training tests the two countries’ ability to mutually defend South Korea from a hypothetical enemy. Like most bilateral exercises, they practice communication and command and control.

Foal Eagle, held off the South Korean coast, also tests maneuvering, air and sea operations and smaller defense operations such as port and shipping security.

The exercise is concurrent with the U.S. Forces Korea command post exercise Reception, Staging, Onward Movement & Integration (RSOI).

More than 7,000 U.S. sailors primarily from Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan-based ships augmented by visiting naval reservists participate with South Korean navy and marine forces for Foal Eagle.

“Anytime we have an opportunity to get together with our bilateral partners like South Korea, it helps a lot,” said Cmdr. Andrew Turner, Carrier Strike Group 5 exercise officer.

The two nations have practiced mutual defense for years. But as technology and strategies develop, they need ways to practice certain skills.

“A lot of things have changed over 50 years in terms of how we do business,” Turner said.

Foal Eagle is a field exercise composed of a series of real-life operations, Turner said. It’s the largest Navy exercise with South Korea and one of the largest in the 7th Fleet.

“There are a lot of little pieces and a lot of big pieces to this thing,” Turner said. “We selectively pick certain missions that we want to practice.”

There is no scenario, like a war game. The drills include maneuvering a large group of ships from both nations together in one area of water, protecting commercial ships with port security and escorts and practicing airstrikes over land by Carrier Air Wing 5, part of the strike group.

Foal Eagle also allows the two countries’ military leaders to work together. Liaison officers from both countries work aboard each other’s ships and this year a South Korean admiral will command from aboard the Kitty Hawk during the exercise.

The training is a fundamental part of the Forward Deployed Naval Forces, the Navy’s overseas presence, particularly in the region, Turner said. Although the enemy is hypothetical, South Korea technically remains at war with North Korea. And South Korea’s role as a major trading partner with the United States, protecting the seas for security and shipping, is integral.

For sailors, the exercise offers a wide variety of training opportunities.

“Every ship is going to be involved in some part of the exercise,” Turner said.

Participants include the Kitty Hawk, Strike Group 5, Carrier Air Wing 5, six ships from Destroyer Squadron 15 and the USS Cowpens.

The exercise began Saturday and runs through Friday, Turner said.

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