By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 28, 2010 – The U.S. and South Korea navies kicked off anti-submarine warfare exercises yesterday in the waters off the Korean peninsula, sending what officials call an important message of deterrence to North Korea as South Korea commemorates the 60th anniversary of Seoul’s liberation.
The five-day exercises are the second in a series and are focused on anti-submarine tactics, techniques and procedures, U.S. Forces Korea officials reported.
The USS John S. McCain and the USS Fitzgerald, both guided-missile destroyers forward-deployed to Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan; Military Sealift Command’s ocean surveillance ship USNS Victorious, a fast-attack submarine, and P-3C Orion aircraft from Patrol Squadron 9, home-ported at Kaneohe Marine Corps Base, Hawaii, are participating in the exercise, officials said.
South Korea has deployed two destroyers, a fast frigate, a patrol craft, P-3C aircraft from Carrier Air Wing 6 and a submarine.
The first exercise in this series, Combined Naval and Air Readiness Exercise Invincible Spirit, was conducted in the seas east of the Korean peninsula in July.
Officials emphasized that the exercises are defensive in nature and designed to improve interoperability within the U.S.-South Korean alliance.
Meanwhile, thousands of South Korean, U.S. and U.N. allied representatives gathered in Seoul to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the recapture of the South Korean capital from North Korea during the Korean War.
The North Korean army seized Seoul three days after stampeding across the border on June 25, 1950 and launching the Korean War. U.N. forces liberated Seoul on Sept. 28, 1950, less than two weeks after a massive amphibious landing in Inchon enabled them to break the North Korean army’s supply lines.
Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki is leading the U.S. delegation during two days of commemorative events that began yesterday in Seoul. U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Kathleen Stephens, Secretary of the Army John McHugh and Andrew Shapiro, assistant secretary of State for political-military affairs, are accompanying Shinseki.
During today’s ceremonies, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak thanked the U.N. and U.S. forces who came to his country’s aid during the war. “We will remember your sacrifice and dedication forever," he said.
Speaking as North Korea’s ruling party convened its biggest meeting in 30 years, and as North Korean leader Kim Jong-il promoted his son and expected successor, Kim Jong-un, Lee also offered a stern reminder that the North Korean threat continues.
Lee pointed to the sinking of the South Korean navy frigate Cheonan in March, killing 46 of its 104 sailors.
Despite North Korea’s denials, an investigation led by South Korea with input from the United States, Australia, Great Britain and Sweden confirmed that North Korean was responsible for the attack. “The evidence points overwhelmingly to the conclusion that the torpedo was fired by a North Korean submarine,” the team concluded. “There is no other plausible explanation.”
Lee also called during yesterday’s ceremonies for a “drastic transformation” within ROK military forces to improve their defensive capabilities.
South Korea already is on a path to assuming wartime operational command of its forces in 2015, a target that Lee had asked to delay from 2012 to 2015 in light of North Korea’s latest provocations.
Details of the transfer plan are spelled out in the new Strategic Alliance 2015 agreement, which Army Gen. Walter L. “Skip” Sharp, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, Combined Forces Command and United Nations Command, announced earlier this month.
The plan covers not only transferring wartime operational command to South Korea, but also developing new war plans, introducing broader and more realistic exercises, reviewing both countries’ military organizational structures and timing the movement of U.S. forces south of Seoul and ensuring South Korean forces are ready, Sharp explained.
Sharp said the plan also will help to identify military capabilities South Korean forces will need in 2015, and ensure that South Korean military acquisitions, training and organizational efforts are geared toward achieving them.
“Strategic Alliance 2015 will enable the South Korean and U.S. forces to successfully confront future security challenges and set the conditions for lasting peace in the Korean peninsula and the region,” Sharp told the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this month. South Korea and the United States “are more strongly united than ever before to deter North Korean provocations and aggression, and to defeat them if necessary,” the general said.