According to Yonhap News, the South Korean military launched a major military drill on Wednesday morning incorporating “more than 1,900 marines, 10 ships and craft of the Navy, Army, and Air Force." The objective of the drill was practice readiness and enhance capabilities for beach landings and assaults. South Korea regularly conducts such exercises to deter North Korean threats and provocations.
North Korea carries out similar amphibious landing exercises – a tactic it is expected to employ in any future conflict with South Korea. North Korea supposedly possesses a sizable hovercraft fleet that it is expected to use in such an operation (even though it was caught doctoring images earlier this year to make its fleet appear larger). Kim Jong-Un has personally taken great interest in amphibious landings, highlighting their potential for use against the United States in Guam or Hawaii, according to North Korean media
The drill is part of South Korea’s series of Hoguk exercises which began last week. The drills are directed at improving South Korea’s inter-service cooperation in the context of responding to a North Korean localized provocation. Though The Diplomat was unable to confirm, it is likely that the drill is also intended to test South Korea’s first indigenously-developed amphibious landing ship, the 4,500-ton class Cheonwangbong. The South Korean Navy plans to add three more such ships by 2018. About 500 American troops are expected to participated in the Hoguk exercise this year. Amphibious beachhead landings are considered to be among the most complex military maneuvers and demand a highly-coordinated effort on the part of the attacking force.
The exercise comes just ten days after Japan conducted a similar exercise, which is largely suspected to have been aimed at practicing a contingency response to the East China Sea territorial dispute with China over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands. Although Japan and South Korea do share a territorial dispute over the Dokdo/Takeshima Islands, neither amphibious landing exercise has been interpreted by analysts to have been directed against those particular islands. Despite their strained relations over historical issues and the island dispute, South Korea and Japan communicate regularly over such matters. The two are also important poles in the United States’ East Asian strategy as crucial allies.
Relations between North Korea and South Korea show no signs of improving, and the Korean peninsula continues to remain East Asia’s most-likely flashpoint. The two states, having never signed a peace treaty after the Korean War in the 1950s, remain technically at war.