Ulchi-Freedom Guardian

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Ulchi-Freedom Guardian[1] (을지 프리덤 가디언, Eulji peulideom gadieon) is the name (as of 2015) of the military exercise previously known as Ulchi-Focus Lens,[2] a combined military exercise between South Korea and the United States. The exercise is the world's largest computerized command and control implementation, involving 50,000 South Korean troops alongside 17,500 U.S. troops in 2017,[3] and mainly focuses on defending South Korea from a North Korean attack. The exercise was initiated in 1976 and is conducted annually during August or September. The word 'Ulchi' comes from the name of a famous Korean general called Eulji Mundeok, who was the Commander-In-Chief of the army of Goguryeo.


The origin of the exercise is Taeguk Yeonseup (Taeguk Exercise), which began after the Blue House Raid by North Korean special forces in 1968. The title of the exercise was changed to Ulchi Yeonseup (Ulchi Exercise) in the following year. In 1976, it was integrated with ROK-US Combined Forces Command's military training, Focus Lens, into Ulchi-Focus Lens.[2] The name of the exercise was changed again in 2008 to Ulchi-Freedom Guardian.[1][4]

The exercise has on occasion included contingents from Australia, Britain, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, the Netherlands and New Zealand.[5]

Reaction of North Korea[edit]

North Korea routinely denounces the exercise as preparation for war.[6]

On 20 August 2012, the exercise began between South Korea and the United States over the objections of North Korea. North Korea alleged that the drill was a precursor to a war planned against them.[7] The North Korean foreign ministry stated that "the prevailing situation requires us to bolster up the war deterrent physically and goes to prove that it was entirely just when we determined to fully reexamine the nuclear issue."[8] Anti-war activists joined in, gathering outside the U.S. Army base in Seoul on to protest the drill.[9] The United States Department of State countered, saying that North Korea must refrain from "bellicose statements."[7] General James D. Thurman, added on, stating that Ulchi Freedom Guardian is "a key exercise in strengthening the readiness of Republic of Korea and U.S. forces."[8]

The 2017 exercise took place August 21–31,[10] during a crisis over successful North Korean missile tests and strong rhetoric by U.S. President Trump.[11] The U.S. manpower contribution for the exercise was reduced from 25,000 in 2016 to 17,500.[3][5] South Korean media reported that the U.S. had cancelled plans to deploy strategic assets in the exercise, such as aircraft carriers, nuclear-powered submarines or a B1 bomber.[12] U.S. Forces Korea did not comment on the reason.[3][5]

In 2018, the South Korean government canceled that year’s exercise.[13] However, joint US-South Korean military exercises resumed again on November 5, 2018, though on a small scale compared to previous exercises.[14][15][16][17] A buffer zone had been established across the Korean Demilitarized Zone on November 1, 2018 to prohibit both Koreas from conducting live-fire artillery drills and regiment-level field maneuvering exercises or those by bigger units within 5 kilometers of the Military Demarcation Line (MDL).[18][19] No fly zones was also established along the DMZ to ban the operation of drones, helicopters and other aircraft from coming within 10 to 40 km away from the MDL.[18][19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Pike, John (2018-06-20). "Ulchi-Freedom Guardian". GlobalSecurity.org. Archived from the original on 2017-12-22.
  2. ^ a b c Pike, John (2018-08-17). "Ulchi-Focus Lens". GlobalSecurity.org. Archived from the original on 2017-08-19.
  3. ^ a b c "Moon reaffirms commitment to military reform, reinforcement". Yonhap News Agency. Retrieved 20 August 2017.
  4. ^ http://ulchi.mopas.go.kr/sub_main/page03/page.asp?div=3
  5. ^ a b c "South Korea and US launch Ulchi Freedom Guardian drills". Deutsche Welle. Retrieved 22 August 2017.
  6. ^ Rowland, Ashley (28 August 2015). "Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise ends after dramatic 2 weeks". Stars and Stripes. Retrieved 11 August 2017.
  7. ^ a b "SKorea-US war drills begin amid North's protest". Associated Press. Seattle Times. 20 August 2012. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
  8. ^ a b "S. Korea, US in major annual military drill". Agence France-Presse. Yahoo!. 20 August 2012. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
  9. ^ "US, South Korea launch major joint war game amid protest". PressTV. 20 August 2012. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
  10. ^ Gady, Franz-Stefan (29 August 2017). "Russia Flies Nuclear-Capable Bombers Near North Korea". The Diplomat. Retrieved 4 September 2017.
  11. ^ Holmes, Oliver (11 August 2017). "US and South Korea to stage huge military exercise despite North Korea crisis". The Guardian. Retrieved 11 August 2017.
  12. ^ Shim, Elizabeth (18 August 2017). "U.S. scales back deployment to Korea for drills". United Press International. Retrieved 8 September 2017.
  13. ^ "S. Korea decides to suspend this year's Ulchi exercise". 9 July 2018. Retrieved 9 July 2018.
  14. ^ https://www.reuters.com/article/usa-southkorea-military/u-s-south-korea-marines-hold-small-scale-exercise-ahead-of-north-korea-talks-idUSKCN1NA09D
  15. ^ https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/11/south-korea-hold-small-scale-drills-korea-talks-181105042855146.html
  16. ^ https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/asia/us--south-korea-marines-hold-small-scale-exercise-ahead-of-north-korea-talks-10898354
  17. ^ http://time.com/5444586/us-south-korea-resume-military-drills/
  18. ^ a b http://english.yonhapnews.co.kr/news/2018/11/01/0200000000AEN20181101002500315.html
  19. ^ a b https://www.nknews.org/2018/10/two-koreas-end-military-drills-begin-operation-of-no-fly-zone-near-mdl-mnd/
  20. ^ John Pike (2015-08-17). "Ulchi-Focus Lens". GlobalSecurity.org. Archived from the original on 2017-08-19. Retrieved 2018-08-13.
  21. ^ John Pike (2018-06-20). "Ulchi-Freedom Guardian". GlobalSecurity.org. Archived from the original on 2017-12-22. Retrieved 2018-08-13.
  22. ^ Copp, Tara (2018-06-18). "South Korea, US cancel Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise for 2018". Archived from the original on 2018-07-18. Retrieved 2018-08-13.
  23. ^ John Pike (2018-03-24). "Foal Eagle". GlobalSecurity.org. Archived from the original on 2017-11-17. Retrieved 2018-08-13.
  24. ^ John Pike (2018-05-29). "Max Thunder". GlobalSecurity.org. Archived from the original on 2017-08-18. Retrieved 2018-08-13.
  25. ^ Taylor Curry (2015-04-26). "Kunsan takes flight at Max Thunder 15-1". Kusan Air Base. Retrieved 2018-08-13.
  26. ^ Anagha Unnikrishnan (2016-04-18). "US and South Korean forces begin Exercise Max Thunder 16". Airforce-Technology.com. Verdict Media Limited. Retrieved 2018-08-13.
  27. ^ "U.S. and ROK units prepare for Exercise MAX THUNDER 17". Kusan Air Base. 2017-04-14. Retrieved 2018-08-13.
  28. ^ ""Max Thunder": Das Militärmanöver, das Nordkorea erzürnt". Die Presse.com. Styria Media Group AG:. 2018-05-16. Retrieved 2018-08-13.