By Jung Sung-ki
South Korea and the United States are considering holding a large-scale amphibious exercise using their Marines later this year to demonstrate their joint military capability, a military source said Sunday.
The exact date and scale for the exercise have yet to be decided, but, if held, it is expected to test the allies' division-level landing capability, said the source.
``Preparatory teams from both the South Korean and U.S. Marine Corps have been consulting on the schedule, location and scale for the upcoming joint landing exercise, but nothing has been fixed yet,'' the source said on condition of anonymity. If held, the exercise is expected to take place early November as part of the annual ``Hoguk Exercise,'' he added.
The source, however, dismissed a report by Yonhap news agency that Gen. Walter L. Sharp, commander of the South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command and the U.S. Forces Korea, had proposed in July holding a division-level joint drill involving some 10,000 troops and already ordered the temporary deployment of a U.S. Marine unit from Japan's Okinawa for the exercise.
The source said Sharp, who concurrently serves as chief of the United Nations Command in charge of troop and logistics support for South Korean troops in the case of an emergency on the Korean Peninsula, only expressed his willingness to ``observe'' the joint landing drill when he visited South Korea's Marine Corps Command in Hwaseong, Gyeonggi Province, in July.
Combined Forces Command officials declined to confirm the report.
It remains to be seen whether the exercise will be held since Seoul is worried such a move could further aggravate relations with North Korea, which have turned sour since the inauguration of the conservative Lee Myung-bak government, another source said.
South Korea has the second-largest Marine Corps in the world, with over 27,000 personnel.
With the launch of the 14,000-ton Dokdo large-deck landing ship last year, South Korea's Marine Corps is seeking to develop its rapid-force-projection capability beyond the traditional roles of coastal protection and amphibious assault on the North Korean shoreline.
The Dokdo is able to rapidly deploy 700 troops, Marine officers said.
During last year's Hoguk Exercise, the Dokdo functioned as a command vessel for the first time, using its state-of-the-art digital command-and-control systems. The ship is capable of carrying 300 crewmembers, 700 Marines, 28 amphibious armored vehicles, two landing craft air cushions and seven helicopters.