March 3, 2023
SEOUL – The South Korean military on Thursday disclosed that South Korean and US special operations forces have staged monthlong “Teak Knife” military exercises since early February, practicing infiltration and precision strikes on key targets in North Korea, in an apparent warning message to North Korea.
The rare disclosure came as South Korea and the US are scheduled to conduct annual, large-scale military exercises in mid-March and as North Korea has ratcheted up its bellicose rhetoric and threatened tit-for-tat military actions.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff also belatedly revealed that JCS Chairman Gen. Kim Seung-kyum on Monday made rare and clandestine visits to places, including Camp Humphreys and Osan Air Base in the city of Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, where the Teak Knife military exercises have been staged.
South Korean and US special operations forces have conducted the Teak Knife exercises regularly and at least annually since 1990s. But most of the drills have been staged behind the scenes. South Korea’s JCS explained that no JCS chairman has visited the sites of the Teak Knife exercises for the past 20 years.
The unusual announcement aims to “demonstrate the alliance’s readiness posture for overwhelming retaliation in preparation for enemy provocations” and their efforts to deter widely expected provocations by North Korea in run-up to the annual Freedom Shield exercise between South Korea and the US, JCS spokesperson Col. Lee Sung-jun said during a televised briefing. North Korea has publicly warned of tit-for-tat military action against the forthcoming Freedom Shield involving large-scale field training exercises.
The goal of the Teak Knife exercises is to enable South Korean and US special forces to master their missions in the event of war, including precision strikes on core facilities, infiltration into enemy territory and hostage rescue operations, according to the JCS.
This week, the special operations forces have focused on staging aerial live-fire drills intended to practice and master procedures of launching precision strikes against enemy targets with “powerful firepower of airborne assets.”
During the live-fire drills, the heavily armed, ground attack AC-130J aircraft precisely struck targets in South Korean waters with air-to-ground precision strike weapons, including the AGM-114 Hellfire, AGM-176 Griffin and GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb, as well as 30 mm cannons and 105 mm field howitzers, according to footage provided by South Korea’s JCS.
The US Air Force Special Operations Command’s AC-130J Ghostrider gunship has been deployed for the first time from Hurlburt Air Force Base in Florida for the Teak Knife exercises.
“With this being the first time the AC-130J has been in South Korea and having this aircraft come from the United States it provides us opportunities throughout the exercise to support extended deterrence,” Capt. Kimberly Chatto, director of public affairs for US Special Operations Command-Korea, or SOCKOR, said in a written statement to The Korea Herald.
Extended deterrence is the US’ commitment to deter or respond to coercion and external attacks on US allies and partners with the full range of its military capabilities, including nuclear weapons.
“It also shows what special operations aircraft are able to provide throughout different training scenarios with both US and ROK special operations forces,” she said, referring to South Korea by the acronym of its full name, Republic of Korea.
The SOCKOR also said an MC-130J special operations tanker aircraft of the US Air Force Special Operations Command has been dispatched from Kadena Air Base in Japan to participate in Teak Knife.
“In bringing the AC-130J gunship and MC-130J, we’re able to incorporate special operations-centric aircraft in our training alongside strike aircraft stationed in South Korea,” Chatto said.
“Training here in South Korea also has provided opportunities to work with US Air Force F-16s and A-10s from both Osan and Kunsan Air Bases.”
But the SOCKOR underscored that the key priority of Teak Knife is to bring opportunities for the US and South Korean special operations forces to jointly stage “challenging, realistic, multidomain training,” dismissing local media reports that described Teak Knife as a decapitation exercise.
During his on-site visits, Gen. Kim called for South Korean and US special forces to “develop the capability to strike enemy core facilities with pinpoint accuracy and to improve interoperability between the forces to perfect wartime combined operation posture by staging realistic special operations exercises,” the JCS said.
Kim also underscored that South Korea and US special forces “must be always ready to inflict fatal damage to the enemy at any time and no matter what mission is assigned to end the situation with a victory as North Korea has made more blatant threats to make provocations.”