A major development in the training readiness aspect of the Republic of Korea-US alliance occurred last month. Moving beyond conducting earlier, large-scale live training events in South Korean land-, air- and water space, under the banner Ulchi Focus Lens, the alliance launched an 11-day computer-simulated, defense-oriented training event with the moniker Ulchi Freedom Shield (UFS). 

In a document provided by Wesley Hayes, Chief, Public/Command Information at US Forces Korea (USFK), Public Affairs Office, UFS participating organizations included Combined Forces Command (CFC), USFK, United Nations (UN) Command, and subordinate component commands under CFC, along with augmentees, civilian personnel and representatives of the UN-sending states.   

The press release indicated, “This integration will help enhance the government and military’s crisis management procedures under the combined defense regime of the ROK-US Alliance. The word ‘Freedom’ in the name is meant as a display of the strong will in protecting freedom as an immutable value of the ROK-US Alliance, and ‘Shield’ symbolizes the defensive nature of the exercise.”

Of further importance, UFS is designed to enhance the ROK-US combined defense posture, maintain readiness, and strengthen the security and stability on the Korean peninsula and Northeast Asia. 

The Kim Jong-un North Korea regime denounced the joint military drills as preparations for an invasion. "The plan of the UFS' second part to advance into Pyongyang by way of Gaeseong appears to be a fait accompli that the warmongers seek to invade North Korea through the combined military exercise rather than it remaining defensive in nature," Uriminzokkiri, the North's propaganda site, stated.

In previous years and on cue, North Korea and China vigorously criticized summer UFL series exercises which typically saw 10,000s of US and ROK forces operating above, on and around the South Korea peninsula in live training events.  

The USFK document added, “Unique to this exercise will be that the CFC commander and deputy commander will switch duties and responsibilities to conduct the Full Operational Capability assessment during UFS as bilaterally agreed upon by the ROK minister of defense and US secretary of defense in December 2021.”