Amid heightened tensions in the Korean peninsula following recent North Korean missile test, the US has begun operations to add an unmanned attack aircraft to its military unit in South Korea, a Seoul official reportedly told Yonhap news agency on Monday (13 March).
Additionally, the US is also deploying other strategic defence assets to South Korea as part of the two ongoing joint military exercises in the country. South Korean Air Force has also begun an air combat exercise in the wake of North Korean provocations.
A military official in South Korea reportedly said that Washington and Seoul are in consultation over the deployment of the Grey Eagle unmanned aircraft, which will be deployed at a US unit in Gunsan, located 274km south of Seoul.
The US Army has already started the process to dispatch a squadron that will operate aircraft system, which is capable of carrying four AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-surface missiles and four GPS-aided GBU-44/B Viper Strike glide bombs. These weapons can strike major military facilities located just north of the Military Demarcation Line bisecting the two Koreas, the official added.
In case of a war, the Grey Eagle is also capable of destroying Pyongyang's war command, including their supreme leader Kim Jong-un. The aircraft system has an automatic takeoff and landing system (ATLS) and can reach speeds of up to 280km per hour during its 30 hour operation time.
Meanwhile, the two allies began their annual Key Resolve military exercise on Monday that will continue through 24 March. Another annual drill called Foal Eagle is already underway in the country and is expected to be wrapped up in April.
The joint military exercises will see the US deploy several of its vital assets to its Asian ally. South Korea's KBS World Radio reported that around 10,000 US military personnel are taking part in the two joint military exercises. The forces include personnel from the US Forces already stationed in the country and others who were dispatched from US bases overseas.
Under the Key Resolve drill, the two countries will conduct a new joint wartime operational plan, OPLAN 5015, aimed at launching preemptive strikes against key nuclear facilities in the North if signs of war are detected on the Korean Peninsula.
The drills will also include missile defense drills to simulate shooting down incoming North Korean missiles using the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (Thaad) missile interceptors and patriot missiles.
To prepare its air defence mechanisms against North Korean provocations, the South Korean Air Force also launched the weeklong biennial air combat exercise called the Soaring Eagle on 10 March. The air exercise will involve around 50 Air Force jets – including the F-15K and FA-50 fighters, and 500 airmen from 15 Air Force units, the force reportedly said in a statement.