SEOUL — U.S. and South Korean military leaders will train for the next few weeks to defend the South not with missiles, artillery or air power, but with keyboard strokes.

The annual Ulchi Freedom Guardian joint military exercise begins Monday on the Korean peninsula. The largely computer-based exercise will run through Aug. 26 and involve the leadership of virtually all U.S. military units in South Korea, along with South Korean troops and 3,000 American servicemembers brought into the country for the training.

“The focus will be on training service members while exercising senior leaders’ decision-making capabilities,” according to a U.S. Forces Korea news release.

Like the Exercise Key Resolve held every spring, Ulchi Freedom Guardian will be designed to prepare forces to respond “to any potential provocations.”

The United Nations Command alerted North Korean military officials about this month’s exercise at a meeting at the Demilitarized Zone in July.

Military officials said the annual exercise is not connected to the ongoing friction between North and South related to the March 26 sinking of the South Korean patrol ship Cheonan that killed 46 South Korean sailors. The North has denied any involvement in the sinking. However, an international team of investigators led by the South determined that a torpedo fired from a North Korean submarine was to blame.

South Korea and the U.S. have since taken a number of economic, symbolic and military steps to punish the North for its alleged actions.

Last month, the U.S. and South Korea staged the Invincible Spirit exercise in the Sea of Japan — which Koreans refer to as the East Sea — a four-day event that involved 20 ships, 200 aircraft and 8,000 servicemembers. The two militaries are scheduled to participate in a similar drill in the Yellow Sea sometime in the weeks ahead.

Last week, North Korea fired artillery rounds near the disputed maritime border between the two Koreas in response to five days of naval drills the South staged in the Yellow Sea, known as the West Sea to Koreans.

Until the sinking of the Cheonan, Ulchi Freedom Guardian was to be the first joint exercise led by a South Korean general — a critical benchmark as the South prepared to assume wartime command of its troops starting in 2012. Questions raised in the wake of the sinking prompted the two countries to postpone the transfer date to December 2015.

In the meantime, the top U.S. general in South Korea will maintain operational control of all forces in the country in the event of war, and USFK commander Gen. Walter Sharp – the man now in that position – will lead the Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise.

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