Seoul [South Korea], March 7 (ANI): South Korea and the United States will stage a major springtime combined military exercise starting this week in a scaled-back manner amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said on Sunday.
According to Yonhap News Agency, whether to hold the regular exercise has drawn attention as the unification ministry and some civic groups have called for its adjustment to help move forward the stalled inter-Korean ties. North Korea has long demanded a halt to such joint manoeuvres.
"South Korea and the U.S. decided to conduct the springtime combined exercise from March 8 for nine days, after comprehensively taking into consideration the COVID-19 situation, the maintenance of the combat readiness posture, the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the establishment of peace," the JCS said in a statement as quoted by Yonhap.
The statement added that the computer-simulated command post exercise (CPX) will not include outdoor drills, as such manoeuvres have been carried out throughout the year, and the size of troops and equipment to be involved will be "minimized" due to the pandemic.
The upcoming exercise will also include a "rehearsal for theatre operations under the envisioned future Combined Forces Command (CFC)" to prepare for a planned Full Operational Capability (FOC) test, though it will focus mainly on ensuring their combined readiness posture, the news outlet further reported.
The FOC test is a crucial step to check if South Korea is on course to meet conditions required for retaking the wartime operational control (OPCON) of its forces from Washington.
Seoul hopes to take back the wartime OPCON within the term of the current administration that ends in May 2022 and has called for the test to be a key feature of the upcoming exercise.
But the US military reportedly voiced opposition, as troops and military equipment necessary for the test are not able to come to South Korea due to the virus situation, the agency reported.
The test was supposed to be held last year, but the two sides were not able to do so, as they were forced to cancel their springtime exercise and hold the summertime one in an adjusted manner.
"The two sides have had close consultations on the matter and agreed to carry out the rehearsal this time, albeit limitedly, to make progress in the transition process," a defense ministry official said, as quoted by Yonhap. (ANI)