Allies hold interdiction drill
Field commanders to be granted greater leeway in counterattacks
By Jung Sung-ki
South Korean and U.S. naval ships staged a maritime ship interdiction drill Tuesday to prevent the possible transfer of illegal weapons and related materials on the third day of their high-profile exercise off the west coast, according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).
Fighter jets flew off the deck of the aircraft carrier USS George Washington in joint maneuvers involving about 10 other warships and 7,300 military personnel from the two countries.
The four-day drills that started Sunday are in response to North Korea’s deadly shelling of Yeonpyeong Island near the western sea border, killing two marines and two civilians.
“We are holding maritime interdiction and air defensive drills as a key part of the third day of exercises,” a JCS spokesman said. “In particular, a search-and-seize exercise is under way to enhance our ability to inspect ships suspected of transporting weapons of mass destruction.”
The official said the maritime interdiction drill is based on a scenario that a North Korean ship violated the West Sea border.
A mock aerial interception of enemy warplanes was also to be conducted with the participation of Aegis destroyers and aircraft from the allies.
Separately, South Korea’s military plans to relax its rules of engagement with North Korea to allow its troops greater leeway to determine the intensity of a counterattack by the level of damage and threats received, the Ministry of National Defense said.
The envisioned change, reported to the National Assembly, will free South Korean forces from the existing regulations that stipulate they should respond to an enemy attack with the same kind of weapons and the same amount of firepower the enemy used.
“We plan to make supplements to guarantee conditions for punishing the enemy,” the ministry said in a parliamentary report.
The military also plans to give greater responsibility to field commanders in counterattacks and give more power to the JCS chairman in order to help the military respond to an enemy attack in a timely manner, the ministry said.
“We plan to differentiate the levels of responses to attacks on the military and attacks on civilians,” it said.
Revision of the rules of engagement will be made in consultation with the U.S.-led United Nations Command and the South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command, it added.
In the joint naval drills, the 97,000-ton USS George Washington, which carries more than 6,000 sailors and 75 fighter jets, is supported by a number of U.S. warships, including the 9,600-ton USS Cowpens, the USS Lassen, the USS Stethem and the USS Fitzgerald.
South Korea has deployed the 7,600-ton Sejong the Great KDX-III Aegis destroyer, two 4,500-ton KDX-II destroyers, frigates and anti-submarine aircraft, according to the JCS.
Also taking part in the drills are eight F-16C Fighting Falcons and four A-10C Thunderbolt II of the U.S. Air Force, and four F-15Ks and four KF-16s of the South Korean Air Force.
Military tensions on the Korean Peninsula have spiked since the North fired dozens of shells at Yeonpyeong Island Nov. 23, one of the most serious provocations by the North since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.
One day after the North’s attack, South Korea and the U.S. announced the drills, which were planned as a warning after North Korea torpedoed a South Korean warship, the Cheonan, in March. Forty-six sailors were killed by the torpedo attack near the Yellow Sea border.
North Korea justified its artillery strike on Yeonpyeong as a “self-defensive measure” against a South Korean military exercise near the island.
The ministry requested an additional 360 billion won ($310 million) from the National Assembly to acquire weapons to help defend the islands near the sea border.
Multiple rocket launchers and anti-artillery radars have already been added to Yeonpyeong Island.