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Land-and-sea drill is canceled

But government source says intention is not to mollify North
Oct 24,2018
A major land-and-sea artillery exercise that was held twice last year by the South Korean Army and Navy has been canceled this year, a local military source exclusively told the JoongAng Ilbo Tuesday, apparently to avoid upsetting North Korea.

The source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told the paper that the military usually holds the drill on a massive scale in April and November, but that none were held in 2018. One was originally planned to be held next month, but the plan was called off in August, said the source.

The official denied accusations that Seoul was kowtowing to Pyongyang, saying the spring exercise was canceled due to bad weather. In June, the military found it hard to immediately resume plans to conduct the drill because it was fishing season, and then after that, summer came and vacationers hit the beaches.

On why the autumn drill was canceled, the official cited a tight schedule, saying other military exercises were already planned beforehand.

News that the South Korean military canceled another drill is expected to provide fresh fodder to the country’s conservative lawmakers, who fear that Seoul is giving away too much to Pyongyang, which views military drills as a rehearsal to invade North Korea.

Shortly after Seoul’s National Defense Ministry announced that Vigilant Ace, an annual air exercise conducted jointly with the United States, will be canceled this year, the ministry said that it would carry out its own air drill as scheduled this December. Both the Defense Ministry and the Joint Chiefs of Staff said South Korea’s combat readiness will remain “unchanged” as the military will continue its solo exercises.

The canceled land-and-sea artillery exercise aims to attack an enemy simultaneously from land and sea. When the drill was held last year, the South hypothesized North Korea to have carried out a provocation in the East Sea.

Some 30 artillery weapons were mobilized for the April 2017 drill from the South Korean Army, including the KH179 howitzer, K9 Thunder self-propelled howitzer and K239 Chunmoo multi-caliber launch rocket system. The South Korean Navy deployed around 10 vessels, including a guided-missile patrol killer and high-speed boats. At the time, Defense Minister Han Min-koo visited the site to give soldiers a pep talk.

The drills used to be held off Songjiho Beach, but that area has fallen under a buffer zone signed by both Koreas’ militaries last month, meaning the South will no longer be able to carry out the exercise there starting from Nov. 1, when the buffer zone goes into effect.

The source said the South Korean military has yet to find an alternative place.

BY PARK YONG-HAN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]