US, South Korea to Make Decision Soon on Future Exercises

PACAF commander Air Force Gen. Charles Brown speaks with leaders from the Republic of Korea Air Force’s 38th Fighter Group during an Aug. 29 visit to Kunsan Air Base, South Korea. Air Force photo by Stefan Alvarez.

The US and South Korea will decide by Dec. 1 whether to continue with major joint exercises next year, South Korean Minister of National Defense Jeong Kyeong-doo said through a translator after a meeting with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis at the Pentagon on Wednesday.

The announcement follows the cancellation of several high-profile military exercises, including most recently Exercise Vigilant Ace. The last large-scale military exercise between the US and South Korea was Exercise Key Resolve in April, added Jeong. This is a significant change for two countries that previously exercised together about 30 times a year.

Both Mattis and Jeong reiterated their commitment to maintaining readiness, while also keeping the focus on a diplomatic and peaceful resolution to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

“I would first like to point out that these combined exercises occur year round, and out of these exercises only a part of these has been suspended at the moment,” said Jeong.

“We consult very closely on this,” added Mattis. “As the minister just mentioned, only part of the exercises have been suspended. It’s not like we’ve shut down all the collaborative exercises that we have going on. So we are not right now concerned with a loss of combat capability.”

Mattis stressed that the recent cancellation of Vigilant Ace and other major exercises was a temporary measure made in good faith as diplomats make progress in negotiations. However, he noted that “adaptations” would have to be made to future iterations.

To “mitigate the impact of the suspension,” Jeong said, the Republic of Korea and the US might do things like “combined staff training to make sure that we don’t see any dips in our readiness posture, or our military capabilities.”

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford also met with his South Korean counterpart last week at the Pentagon to discuss how to maintain a high state of readiness.

“We have a history in our alliance of taking very seriously our responsibility to protect the Republic of Korea’s people and their freedoms, and we are very professional military people on both sides,” said Mattis. “You heard about some of things I think we’re going to do to mitigate this, but I assure you we will give a thorough review, a thorough assessment, and it can be done … with the staff exercises and we will not lose any capability to deter aggression.”