|ROK Air Force’s fighter jets, including F-15Ks, fly in formation over the West Sea during the Soaring Eagle exercise, Monday. The large-scale combat exercise, aimed at striking North Korea’s key nuclear and missile facilities, began last Friday for a one-week run. / Yonhap|
By Jun Ji-hye
The Air Force is currently conducting a large-scale combat exercise aimed at striking North Korea’s key nuclear and missile facilities.
Soaring Eagle, a week-long drill that began last Friday, involves 50 aircraft including F-15Ks, KF-16s and FA-50s fighter jets as well as 500 troops.
This is taking place in conjunction with the joint annual Foal Eagle and Key Resolve exercises by South Korea and the United States, which are aimed at improving the combined forces’ operation and combat capabilities to deter threats from the North.
“The Soaring Eagle exercise is designed to practice the Air Force’s readiness against possible provocations from North Korea and counterattack operations,” the Air Force said in a statement, Monday.
“By carrying out the exercise in tandem with Key Resolve, we expect the ROK Air Force to enhance its combat capability in the event of war.”
During a drill scheduled for Thursday, the Air Force will apply the concept of the Kill Chain preemptive strike system that the military is planning to establish in the early 2020s.
“Thursday’s drill will focus on strengthening our ability to strike the enemy’s core facilities and its time-sensitive targets (TSTs) including missiles,” the Air Force said.
The drills are taking place amid heightened tension on the Korean Peninsula after North Korea fired four ballistic missiles, March 6, 22 days after it fired a new intermediate-range ballistic missile.
There has also been speculation that Pyongyang will conduct another major provocation such as a sixth nuclear test or launching an intercontinental ballistic missile aimed at the U.S. mainland.
The Air Force noted that Soaring Eagle has been taking place twice a year since 2008, adding that the exercise, together with ongoing joint military drills with the U.S., is expected to further improve anti-North Korea combat readiness.
Key Resolve starts
The allies also began the Key Resolve exercise, Monday, which will run until March 24, according to the South Korea and the U.S. Combined Forces Command (CFC).
Like last year, the allies will apply their joint wartime Operation Plan (OPLAN) 5015, which reportedly includes a contingency for preemptive strikes against the North’s leadership, sources said.
They added that the allies would also carry out drills to train troops on intercepting North Korean missiles using the concept of the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile defense system scheduled to be deployed to U.S. Forces Korea within the year.
In a show of force against Pyongyang’s potential provocations, the U.S. is sending the Nimitz-class super carrier USS Carl Vinson and its strike group, and F-35B stealth fighter jets.
The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier is due to arrive in Busan, Wednesday.
On March 1, South Korean and U.S. troops began Foal Eagle, a two-month exercise involving the two allies’ ground, air and naval forces.
The Ministry of National Defense said South Korea and the U.S. were keenly monitoring the movements of North Korean soldiers in preparation for possible provocations.
The repressive state has long been claiming that the exercises are “dress rehearsals” for a northward invasion with nuclear weapons, and has threatened harsh retaliation against “hostile” forces.
But the allies have stressed the exercises that have been held regularly are defensive in nature, aimed solely at bolstering readiness against a possible invasion from North Korea.