U.S., South Korea put on show with enhanced firepower
POCHEON CITY, South Korea — The U.S. and South Korean militaries staged a show of sorts Thursday, the stars of which were neither generals nor soldiers but examples of the enhanced firepower that has been brought to the peninsula.
M1A2 SEP Abrams Main Battle Tanks and M2A3 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles were introduced to South Korea in the military version of a debutante ball, complete with an assault on a nearby mountainside from the ground and air.
And while the high-powered demonstration was staged at the Rodriguez Digital Multi-Purpose Range Complex for high-ranking U.S. and South Korean military officials, dignitaries and more than 100 media representatives, it was obvious the people it was most designed to impress were more than 15 miles away in North Korea.
While never mentioning North Korea by name during a post-exercise news conference, U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. James D. Thurman said Thursday’s exercise “demonstrates the deterrence that is necessary so we provide a peaceful and stable South Korea.
“What it demonstrates up front is how we continually modernize our forces to make sure we have the very best equipment in the hands of our soldiers,” he said. “With this equipment, you have to have a mix of combined-arms capability in a theater such as the Republic of Korea.
“It’s just another tool in the toolkit that we believe provides the deterrence necessary in the defense of the Republic of Korea,” Thurman said. “The important message is we will stay trained and ready as long as I’m the commander … and I’ll leave it at that.”
Thurman succeeded Gen. Walter Sharpe as USFK commander in July and has walked into what appears to be a time of potential transition in North-South relations, with the caveat being that North Korea has a long history of being unpredictable.
Fifty South Koreans were killed last year when the naval ship Cheonan was sunk and Yeonpyeong Island was shelled, both near the disputed maritime border between the two Koreas in the Yellow Sea in attacks blamed on North Korea.
However so far this year — despite the usual fiery threats and rhetoric dispersed through the Korean Central News Agency and a relatively harmless exchange of artillery in recent weeks — North Korean officials have reached out to the U.S. and others in an apparent attempt to resurrect the long dormant six-party talks about nuclear disarmament.
With that as a backdrop, the U.S. has brought about 60 new Abrams tanks and 60 new Bradley fighting vehicles to South Korea in recent months to bolster defenses, officials said.
Capt. Michael Kim, commander of the 1st Battalion, 72nd Armor Regiment’s Charlie Company, explained that the equipment is an upgrade from the systems that were in place — kind of like buying a newer version of your family car, “with all the improvements and gadgetry.”
For example, he said, with the new tanks, “The biggest difference is … (you have) a hunter-killer capability, so the gunner can search for one target while the tank commander searches for another target. You have two sets of eyes on the battlefield versus one.”
Kim said Thursday’s exercise and display of the new equipment demonstrates “we are a lethal deterrent if there is any North Korean aggression.”
Thurman said, “The U.S. Army, as we have been involved in Iraq and Afghanistan, we know the importance of the (South Korea)-U.S. alliance, and the importance of keeping our forces … fully modernized.”