Canceling Joint Exercise with South Korea Saved $14 Million: DoD

U.S. Navy corpsmen with 1st Marine Aircraft Wing secure a Marine to a stretcher during an indirect fire drill as part of Ulchi Freedom Guardian 2017 on Camp Hansen, Okinawa, Japan, August 29, 2017. (U.S. Marine Corps/1st Lt. Karoline Foote)
U.S. Navy corpsmen with 1st Marine Aircraft Wing secure a Marine to a stretcher during an indirect fire drill as part of Ulchi Freedom Guardian 2017 on Camp Hansen, Okinawa, Japan, August 29, 2017. (U.S. Marine Corps/1st Lt. Karoline Foote)

The canceled Ulchi Freedom Guardian joint military exercise with South Korea this summer would have cost the U.S. about $14 million, according to the Pentagon.

The annual exercise, which normally begins in late August, involved more than 50,000 South Korean and 17,500 U.S. troops last year. It was called off following the Singapore summit last month between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

At the Pentagon on Monday, Army Col. Rob Manning, a Pentagon spokesman, said that Ulchi Freedom Guardian would likely have cost the U.S. about $14 million but gave no details on how the figure was calculated.

The $14 million would be a small fraction of the current U.S. defense budget of about $700 billion.

The Washington Examiner, which first reported the $14 million figure, quoted Manning as saying, "These exercises are about enhancing readiness and interoperability, but the high state of readiness of our forces and our ability to fight tonight will not be impacted by this one exercise not occurring."

Following the summit with Kim, Trump said that what he called "war games" with South Korea were needlessly "provocative," considering what he believed to be Kim's commitment to dismantling North Korea's missile and nuclear weapons programs.

"We save a fortune by not doing war games, as long as we are negotiating in good faith -- which both sides are!" Trump tweeted June 13.

In a June 17 tweet, he said, "Holding back the 'war games' during the negotiations was my request because they are VERY EXPENSIVE and set a bad light during a good faith negotiation. Also, quite provocative. Can start up immediately if talks break down, which I hope will not happen!"

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis later announced that Ulchi Freedom Guardian had been indefinitely suspended, along with two smaller training programs, in an effort to provide "space for diplomacy."

The U.S. currently maintains about 28,500 troops in South Korea to deter North Korean aggression and also add to regional stability.

In March, the U.S. and South Korea began a new round of negotiations on the cost-sharing arrangements for the basing of U.S. troops. Under the current arrangement, South Korea will pay about $890 million this year -- nearly half of the total costs.

Last month, Army Gen. Vincent Brooks, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, presided at the opening of the new headquarters building at the expanded Camp Humphreys, south of Seoul.

Brooks said at the ceremony that South Korea is picking up about 90 percent of the projected $10.8 billion overall cost of the expanded Camp Humphreys, which he said is possibly the largest overseas U.S. military base.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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