SEOUL (Kyodo) -- South Korea and the United States began a joint large-scale military exercise on Monday aimed at bolstering their defense and preparedness against North Korea's evolving nuclear and missile threats.
The annual Ulchi Freedom Shield exercise, which will last for 11 days until Aug. 31, will include about 30 field training events based on an all-out war scenario, according to an official from South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff. The number of drills this year will exceed those in previous joint military exercises.
The exercise comes as South Korea, the United States and Japan remain on alert over North Korea. The South Korean spy agency told lawmakers last Thursday that Pyongyang is preparing various provocations including an intercontinental ballistic missile test timed to coincide with the exercise.
A spokesman for the JCS said the latest drills are "designed to be a tough and realistic exercise to strengthen the combined defense posture and alliance response capabilities based on scenarios that reflect diverse threats within the security environment."
South Korea and the United States will conduct a number of large-scale complementary training events to increase combat readiness, according to the militaries of the two allies.
In addition to the two countries' army, navy, air force and marines personnel, a space unit of U.S. Forces Korea will also participate in the drills.
On Monday, North Korea's state media reported that Kim Jong Un inspected a cruise missile test aboard a warship, but did not specify the date.
The launch was aimed at demonstrating "the feature of its missile system," and was also designed to "make the seamen skilled at carrying out the attack mission in actual war," the official Korean Central News Agency said.
The report came as the United States, South Korea and Japan held a trilateral summit near Washington on Friday last week and committed to consulting with each other on further coordinating their responses to future "provocations" and "threats," amid Pyongyang's increasing belligerence in the region.
Meanwhile, South Korea will hold a nationwide civilian exercise Wednesday to coincide with the joint military drill, aimed at enhancing the public's readiness in the event of "an invasion of an enemy," the Interior and Safety Ministry has said.
The exercise will start at 2 p.m. with a siren and is set to last for 20 minutes, during which all civilians will be ordered to stay in nearby shelters, according to the ministry.