Annual training with South Korea is expected to begin next week despite the coronavirus pandemic, the Yonhap News Agency is reporting.
It’s another step toward having South Korea take over the primary leadership role from the U.S. for wartime operations on the peninsula, following 65 years of American control.
The computer-simulated command post exercise will be scaled back in size due to COVID-19 but is expected to take place from August 16-28, according to Yonhap.
U.S. Forces Korea declined to comment on the exercise, telling Military Times that they “do not publically comment on planned or executed training, but rather view training as routine and continuously executed by all professional militaries to maintain trust, proficiency and readiness.”
While changes to training in South Korea have been made, troops have “never stopped training,” DOD head spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a press conference Thursday.
This year, South Korean defense ministers have expressed desires to carry out a full operational capability test, followed by a full mission capability test in hopes that the nation will soon take control of its own wartime operations, a move long-anticipated by both sides.
“We’re looking toward the OPCON (Operational Control) transfer, and we want to make sure we take the steps that are necessary to get to that place by ensuring that that capability is there for the Republic of Korea forces,” said Hoffman.
To prepare for the exercise, a four-day joint crisis management staff training began Tuesday, an unnamed source told Yonhap.
Earlier this year, annual spring exercises with South Korea were cancelled due to concerns about the virus.
Historically held in March and August, the U.S. and South Korea typically conduct two major training exercises each year.
In recent years, the exercises have been significantly downsized, consisting mainly of computer simulations due to President Donald Trump’s promises in 2018 negotiations with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
Last year’s fall exercise included an initial operational capability test simulating South Korean leadership taking back operational control of their troops during a war with North Korea.
Formerly named Ulchi-Freedom Guardian, last year’s fall exercise went unnamed for fear that it would upset North Korea, Chosun Media reported.