US-ROK military personnel work side-by-side during exercise Ulchi Freedom Guardian. Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Ben Farone, U.S. Navy

Annual Joint Exercise Reinforces US-Korea Military Cooperation


The annual joint US-ROK Combined Forces Command (CFC) exercise Ulchi Freedom Guardian (UFG) will take place August 16 through August 26 and formally commences one day after South Korea’s Independence Day, August 15. The exercise is a simulated computerized command and control exercise and is the largest in the world, aimed at increasing and improving US-South Korean “inter-operability.” Established in 1976 and named Ulchi Focus Lens—the exercise name was changed to Ulchi Freedom Guardian in 2008—the joint exercise simulates a US-South Korea defense against an attack by North Korea.

The simulation gets its name from the 7th century Korean General Ulchi Mundeok, who successfully defeated a much larger Sui Dynasty invasion force from Northeast China at the Salsu River in 612 CE. Today General Ulchi Mundoek is honored as one of Korea’s greatest military leaders. South Korea’s second highest military decoration, the Korean Order of Military Merit Ulchi Class, is named after him, and a main street in Seoul, Ulchi-ro, bears his name.

US-ROK CFC Commander, General James D. Thurman, in a statement announcing Ulchi Freedom Guardian 2011 explained

“Ulchi Freedom Guardian is designed to enhance the interoperability of the United States and Republic of Korea military forces while enhancing the combat readiness of the Alliance. UFG 11 will present the Alliance with tough and realistic training events focused on preparing, preventing and prevailing against the full range of current and future threats to the Republic of Korea and the region.”

Prior to 2008 the United States led the exercise, but with the forthcoming transfer of wartime operational command (OPCON) from the United States to South Korea scheduled for 2015 South Korea directed the exercise in 2008 and 2009. The exercise incorporates the full range of US military assets within South Korea along with their South Korean counterparts, as well as participation from 3,000 US military members based throughout the Asia-Pacific and beyond. This year’s exercise will involve a simulation of dismantling a North Korean nuclear weapons cache and an evacuation drill that will involve 440,000 South Korean officials at 3,800 government offices and various state-controlled civilian firms. In addition, seven United Nations Command sending state nations, Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Norway, Thailand and the United Kingdom are also participating.

Operation Ulchi Freedom Guardian is one of two annual US-ROK CFC military exercises held under the auspices of the United Nations Combined Forces Command in South Korea. The other annual major exercise is the combined Foal Eagle/Key Resolve exercise normally conducted during March or April.