The first such drills in five years are taking place against the backdrop of North Korea's protests and nearly daily missile launches
The US and South Korean militaries have embarked on a large-scale joint exercise aimed at practicing amphibious landings, South Korean media has reported. The drills, which are part of the ongoing 'Freedom Shield' maneuvers, went ahead despite Pyongyang's repeated warnings.
On Monday, South Korea's KBS TV channel, citing the country's military, reported that the 'Ssangyong' drills had kicked off on the eastern coast in North Gyeongsang Province, and are expected to conclude on April 3. The outlet said they are the first after a five-year hiatus, with entire divisions taking part this time instead of just brigades.
The exercise features more than 30 vessels from both countries, 70 aircraft, including F-35B stealth fighters and AH-64 attack helicopters, as well as 50 amphibious assault vehicles.
Last week, the Yonhap news agency quoted South Korean military officials as saying that the 'Ssangyong' maneuvers were intended to demonstrate the "overwhelming" capabilities of the partner nations.
"The upcoming training will demonstrate the South Korea-US alliance's will to realize 'peace through strength'," Marine Corps Commandant Lt. Gen. Kim Gye-hwan was quoted as explaining.
According to Yonhap, participating in the drills for the first time are several dozen British marines, with military personnel from Australia, France and the Philippines observing them.
Meanwhile, North Korea said on Monday that it had test-fired a missile "tipped with a test warhead simulating a nuclear payload" over the weekend, demonstrating Pyongyang's firepower and readiness to respond to any "reckless moves" by Washington and Seoul.
The state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) quoted the country's leader Kim Jong-un arguing that "it is only when the North is fully equipped with a nuclear attack posture that it can carry out its important strategic mission of deterring war."
Kim watched Sunday morning's missile launch along with his daughter Ju-ae.
The DPRK's latest show of force was preceded by several other missile launches over the past week.
Pyongyang insists its increased military activity is merely a response to the ongoing US-South Korea military exercises, which the North believes to be preparation for an attack.
Washington and Seoul, in turn, say that the maneuvers are their answer to the North's destabilizing actions, including a record number of missile launches in 2022.