South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol has ordered an update of his country’s wartime operational plans to counter alleged threats from North Korea.
On Thursday and the fourth day of the Ulchi Freedom Shield (UFS) military drills between South Korea and the United States, Yoon ordered the update to address Pyongyang’s purported evolving nuclear and missile threats, according to a statement by his office.
“We have to urgently come up with measures to protect our people’s lives and properties, such as updating the OPLANs (wartime operation plans) against North Korean nuclear and missile threats are becoming a reality,” said the South Korean leader during a virtual meeting with military chiefs and major operation commanders in a joint operation room at the so-called B-1 bunker.
The bunker has been designated as a command post during times of conflict. The two Koreas are still technically at war as the 1950-53 war between them ended in a truce and not a peace treaty.
Communications between the two neighbors have largely been cut in the aftermath of a second US-North Korea summit in Vietnam in February 2019. The summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and then US President Donald Trump collapsed after they were ultimately unable to reach an agreement.
The joint drills began on Monday and are the largest in years.
During the administration of the South’s former President Moon Jae-in, Seoul and Washington agreed late last year to update OPLANs for the first time since 2010. Pyongyang has long criticized the joint exercises as a “hostile policy” and a rehearsal for invasion. The South Korean president also called for boosting the military’s capability to counter North Korean missiles, while strengthening the extended US deterrence, including its nuclear umbrella.
Moon further ordered the army commanders to accelerate plans to establish the “Kill Chain” system, which is a set of surveillance, targeting, and kinetic capabilities, designed to detect imminent North Korean missile launches and then destroy the military’s missile launch architecture to prevent an initial or follow-up attack.
North Korea has test-fired a record number of missiles this year amid claims by officials in Seoul and Washington that Pyongyang appears to be preparing to test a nuclear weapon for the first time since 2017. North Korea conducted its sixth nuclear test in September that year. However, during inconclusive negotiations later with the US, it dismantled a nuclear facility and has not conducted any other nuclear tests since.
The US has warned it would push for additional sanctions if Pyongyang conducted a seventh nuclear test.