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Ryan Robertson

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International

‘Vigilant Defenders’ from US, South Korea take to skies

Oct 30, 2023

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Ryan Robertson

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Air assets from the United States and South Korea kicked off their annual exercises this week at this year’s Vigilant Defense drills. During the drills, 130 U.S. and South Korean warplanes will work on simulating 24-hour wartime operations.

The air armada includes different variations of the fifth-generation F-35 stealth fighter, F-16s, refueling tankers and other aircraft. Like most military drills, Vigilant Defense 2024 is designed to improve what militaries call “interoperability.” This year, that means performing major missions like air-to-surface live fire drills, countering enemy air defenses, and operating for extended periods of time.

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The South Korean Self Defense Force said the exercises help maintain the best combat readiness to immediately respond to and punish any provocation by the enemy.

In this instance, that enemy is North Korea. Pyongyang and Moscow signed several recent defense agreements. The U.S. and its Pacific allies said that North Korea cozying up with Russia is bad for the region, and criticized North Korea for trying to advance its military capabilities in return for supplying arms to Moscow.

For their part, the North Koreans said they were steadfast in their will to expand ties with Russia. North Korea’s foreign minister, Choe Son Hui, said improved relations with Moscow will act as a powerful “strategic element” if security in the region is endangered.

North Korea and Russia pledged to develop closer military ties in September at a summit of the nation’s two leaders. In October, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un, where they discussed implementing the agreements reached at the September summit.

North Koreans are equally critical of any joint military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea, calling them all rehearsals for an invasion.

If hostilities on the Korean Peninsula do erupt, the skills being developed right now in Vigilant Defense 2024 will be vital, perhaps especially the ones concerning extended wartime operations. Seoul, the capital of South Korea, is within range of North Korea’s forward-deployed long-range artillery guns, which can collectively fire about 16,000 rounds per hour.

Taking out those guns may require taking out enemy radar sites and anti-air defenses first, which requires multiple aircraft flying multiple sorties for longer stretches of time. Vigilant Defense 24 is focusing on just these sorts of tactics.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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AIR ASSETS FROM THE UNITED STATES AND SOUTH KOREA KICKED OFF THEIR ANNUAL EXERCISES THIS WEEK. FOR THIS YEAR’S VIGILANT DEFENSE DRILLS, 130 US AND SOUTH KOREAN WARPLANES WILL WORK ON SIMULATING 24-HOUR WARTIME OPERATIONS.

THE AIR ARMADA INCLUDES DIFFERENT VARIATIONS OF THE FIFTH GENERATION F-35 STEALTH FIGHTER, F-16S, REFUELING TANKERS AND OTHER AIRCRAFT. LIKE MOST MILITARY DRILLS, VIGILANT DEFENSE IS DESIGNED TO IMPROVE WHAT MILITARIES CALL INTEROPERABILITY. THIS YEAR, THAT MEANS AIR-TO-SURFACE LIVE FIRE DRILLS, COUNTERING ENEMY AIR DEFENSES, REFUELING, AND OPERATING FOR EXTENDED PERIODS OF TIME.

THE SOUTH KOREAN SELF DEFENSE FORCE SAYS THE EXERCISES HELP MAINTAIN THE BEST COMBAT READINESS TO IMMEDIATELY RESPOND TO, AND STRONGLY PUNISH, ANY PROVOCATION BY THE ENEMY.

IN THIS INSTANCE, THAT ENEMY IS NORTH KOREA. PYONGYANG AND MOSCOW SIGNED SEVERAL RECENT DEFENSE AGREEMENTS. THE U.S. AND ITS PACIFIC ALLIES SAID NORTH KOREA COZYING UP WITH RUSSIA IS BAD NEWS FOR THE REGION, CRITICIZING NORTH KOREA FOR TRYING TO ADVANCE ITS MILITARY CAPABILITIES IN RETURN FOR SUPPLYING ARMS TO MOSCOW.

FOR THEIR PART, THE NORTH KOREANS SAID THEY WERE STEADFAST IN THEIR WILL TO EXPAND TIES WITH RUSSIA. NORTH KOREA’S FOREIGN MINISTER SAID IMPROVED RELATIONS WITH MOSCOW WILL ACT AS A POWERFUL STRATEGIC ELEMENT IF SECURITY IN THE REGION IS ENDANGERED. NORTH KOREANS ARE EQUALLY CRITICAL OF ANY JOINT MILITARY EXERCISES BETWEEN THE US AND SOUTH KOREA, CALLING THEM ALL REHEARSALS FOR AN INVASION.

IF HOSTILITIES ON THE KOREAN PENINSULA DO ERUPT, THE SKILLS BEING DEVELOPED RIGHT NOW IN VIGILANT DEFENSE WILL BE VITAL. PERHAPS ESPECIALLY THE ONES CONCERNING EXTENDED WARTIME OPERATIONS.

SEOUL, THE CAPITAL OF SOUTH KOREA, IS WITHIN RANGE OF NORTH KOREA’S FORWARD-DEPLOYED LONG-RANGE ARTILLERY GUNS; GUNS THAT CAN COLLECTIVELY FIRE ABOUT 16,000 ROUND PER HOUR.

DEPENDING ON TACTICS, TAKING OUT THOSE GUNS MAY REQUIRE TAKING OUT ENEMY RADAR SITES AND ANTI-AIR DEFENSES FIRST. WHICH MEANS MULTIPLE AIRCRAFT FLYING MULTIPLE SORTIES FOR LONGER STRETCHES OF TIME. VIGILANT DEFENSE 24 IS FOCUSING ON JUST THESE SORTS OF TACTICS. BY HOLDING HIGH LEVEL DRILLS NOW, THE HOPE IS ANY ACTUAL CONFLICT WILL SEEM EASIER BY COMPARISON.