Tuesday, July 20, 2010

United States and South Korea Announced Combined Maritime and Air Readiness Exercise named Invincible Spirit

By Jim Garamone

The United States and South Korea today announced a series of military exercises designed to send a strong, clear message to North Korea to stop its provocative and warlike acts. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Republic of Korea National Defense Minister Kim Tae-young released a joint statement on the exercises following meetings here.

The first in a series is a combined maritime and air readiness exercise named Invincible Spirit. About 8,000 U.S. and ROK military personnel will participate. The exercise is in response to the unprovoked attack on and sinking of the South Korean frigate Cheonan off the west coast of the peninsula. Forty-six South Korean sailors were killed in the North Korean torpedo attack on the vessel.

“This is the first in a series of ROK-U.S. combined naval exercises that will occ
ur in both the East and West Seas,” the two defense ministers said in their joint statement. To Americans, the East Sea is the Yellow Sea and the West Sea is the Sea of Japan.

“These defensive, combined exercises are designed to send a clear message to North Korea that its aggressive behavior must stop, and that we are committed to together enhancing our combined defensive capabilities,” the statement continued.

Navy Adm. Robert F. Willard, the commander of U.S. Pacific Command, put the exercises in context for reporters traveling with Gates and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Willard said the exercise will begin at the conclusion of the Two-plus-Two meetings between the U.S. and Korean ministers of defense and foreign affairs.

Willard called the attack on the Cheonan “heinous.”

The exercise does include the USS George Washington Carrier Strike Group and ROK Navy ships. Aircraft will come from the U.S. Seventh Air Force, the George Washington’s Air Wing, the ROK air force and ROK anti-submarine aircraft. The exercise will include F-22 Raptor aircraft training for the first time in the theater, he said.

“In all, over a hundred aircraft will fly in the event,” Willard said. “The exercise will include a variety of training opportunites – flight operations from the carrier, there will be an air defense exercise, strike exercises and opportunities for passing exercises.”

“Anti-submarine warfare is also included in the exercise with both ROK and U.S. Navy ships and P-3 aircraft participating,” he said.

At the end of the exercise, there will be a counter special forces exercise. “These occur with some frequency in both the East and West Seas, conducted by the ROK and U.S. Navy,” Willard said.

Invincible Spirit is a large-scale exercise, the admiral stressed. “This is intended to send a signal to North Korea with regard to what has occurred post-Cheonan, and it is intended to signal to the region the resolve of this alliance and our commitment to one another and the scope and scale of our ability to operate together,” he said.

The exercise is part of a continuum of exercises that the United States and the Republic of Korea hold. The end of Invincible Spirit will coincide with the start of exercise Freedom’s Guardian, Willard said.The admiral said the exercises can be adjusted if North Korea agrees to stop future provocations.

Future exercises may be in the West Sea, Willard said. The West Sea is an international waterway, and the United States is perfectly within its rights to exercise in that body of water. Willard said he is not concerned about China’s feeling about U.S.-ROK naval exercises in that area.

“If I have a concern vis-a-vie China it’s that China exert itself to influence Pyongyang to see that incidents like Cheonan don’t occur in the future,” he said.

Deterring North Korea is problematic, said Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell. “This is what makes North Korea so challenging and at times, so confounding: how do you gain leverage with a regime that doesn’t care how it is viewed by the rest of world, and doesn’t care how it treats its own people?” Morrell said. “At the same time, none of us wants to fight another war on the peninsula and clearly none of us – certainly the Chinese – are interested in instability on the peninsula. So, this all combines to make this a challenge.”

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