Within a week after South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol released the country’s “National Security Strategy” (NSS, June 7), which is the highest-level document outlining South Korea’s current national security concerns and how the Yoon administration seeks to address them, U.S. Marines with 3rd Landing Support Battalion, 3rd Marine Logistics Group, have executed “Combined Distribution Exercise” (CDEX) near Pohang.
The exercise started on June 12 and would conclude on June 16.
Of course, since January this year, the United States and South Korea have undertaken a number of joint military exercises involving their armies, air force, and navies. But the ongoing exercise, soon after the publication of the Yoon regime’s NSS, assumes special significance.
CDEX is a combined and joint event in the Korean peninsula, normally executed by forces from the 8th Army, the 19th Expeditionary Sustainment Command, the Republic of Korea Navy, and the ROK Army. But, due to relief in place with the 8th Army’s rotational forces, the 3rd LSB was tasked to participate as the execution arm of the Distribution Hub Operations Center.
On the other hand, the 3rd LSB conducts general support transportation operations throughout the Indo-Pacific area of responsibility in order to deploy and sustain the III Marine Expeditionary Force.
CDEX is supposed to demonstrate the joint force’s commitment to the defense of the ROK. Further, the 3rd LSB is rehearsing its mission-essential tasks and improving interoperability with allies and partners for integrated throughput and distribution operations.
During the exercise, the 3rd LSB is expected to provide a variety of fuel, water, ground, and air transportation.
According to Major William Griffin, the officer-in-charge for CDEX and 3rd Landing Support Battalion, Motor Transport Company Commander, this exercise is a great opportunity to work with other branches and US allies like the ROK.
“[CDEX] provides us with an opportunity to share an understanding of our capabilities in a joint and combined environment,” stated Griffin. “Alongside the Army and the ROK military, we will understand their capabilities, and they will understand ours.”
The exercise consists of on-loading and off-loading drills of high-mobility, multipurpose wheeled vehicles, and other gear onto the ROK Navy landing ships, fuel resupply operations, water production, air deliveries, aerial medical evacuation drills, and helicopter support team operations.
These are expeditionary logistics capabilities that can be employed worldwide, even during Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief operations, contingencies, or crisis response.
Sergeant Emiliano Hernandez, a light pack chief, jump master, and lead rigger with 3rd LSB, is reported to have said that he is excited for this opportunity, and he thinks this exercise will help strengthen their capabilities as an air delivery unit.
“One thing that my section is doing is conducting site surveys of drop zones to be able to use during KMEP [Korean Marine Exercise Program],” said Hernandez. “This will give us a wider range of what we can do, so we are able to drop more supplies during this exercise and in the future.”
During CDEX, the 3rd LSB will serve as the Marine Corps element of the logistics team, demonstrating key logistic functions in conjunction with the Army and ROK forces. Executing events from a combined combat operations center, these units will negotiate tasks side-by-side throughout the exercise.
1st Lt. Davis Pogosian, officer-in-charge for the Helicopter Support Team and Beach Operations Group, believes this exercise will prove successful. “The Marines have a huge role to play in this exercise,” said Pogosian, adding, “The Marines will always deliver good communications with our ROK counterparts…and having good interservice communication with the Army will help enable success in this operation.”
In Force Design 2030, Commandant of the Marine Corps General David Berger points out that logistics is the pacing function. As it becomes a contested capability, the Marine Corps trains in distribution operations to enable any fight anywhere.
“To persist inside an adversary’s weapons engagement zone, our Stand-in Forces must be set and sustained by logistics capabilities designed for distributed operations over long distances in a contested environment,” said Berger.
During CDEX, the 3rd LSB will refine its capabilities to achieve this strategic goal. Operating with the ROK forces, the Air Force, the Navy, and the Army as one team will firm up the force’s ability to support major movements from ship to shore and air to land.
Pogosian has shared how this exercise is a prime example of the Commandant’s vision for the Corps. “The way that this exercise supports Force Design 2030 is by demonstrating how the Marine Corps will use logistics within the Korean theater of operations as well as the Indo-Pacific area of responsibility,” he said, adding, “In case any threat arises, this will be our proof of concept that we can support our forces operating in the Indo-Pacific.”
It may be noted that increased military collaborations with the United States and Japan (the country with which the ROK had bitterness) figure prominently in South Korea’s latest NSS.
In the 147-page document written in English, which is 107 pages long in Korean, the Yoon Administration focuses on expanding Seoul’s diplomatic scope to the global community and stronger deterrence against North Korea’s provocations.
“We will continue to develop our military into a strong and technologically advanced force, thereby creating a solid foundation of security. Our goal is to foster a sustainable peace that guarantees freedom and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia, as opposed to a fragile and short-lived peace that merely postpones war,” says President Yoon in its preface.
Pointing out that the Republic of Korea is currently facing several significant security challenges, of which “The most pressing is North Korea’s continued advancement of its nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction (WMD) capabilities” The NSS says, “As a result,, it is more critical than ever to strengthen our military’s defense capabilities and reinforce a robust ROK-U.S. combined defense posture. Furthermore, as trilateral security cooperation among Korea, Japan, and the United States grows increasingly important to counter North Korean nuclear and missile threats, there is a compelling need to transform the deteriorated Korea-Japan relationship into a forward-looking, cooperative partnership”.
The NSS acknowledges the China factor and the US-China tensions in the Indo-Pacific.
“The intensifying competition between the United States and the People’s Republic of China is increasing the fluidity of the international order. China, leveraging its economic growth, continues to expand its military capabilities and extend its political and economic influence on the global stage. In response, the United States has characterized the current global landscape as an ‘inflection point’ in the ‘confrontation between democracy and authoritarianism’ and is bolstering its alliances and partnerships with like-minded countries”.
Against this background, the NSS document talks of four action plans:
- Reinforce national security through enhanced military power
- Develop a future-ready military backed by advanced science and technology
- Establish a comprehensive defense posture grounded in the solid ROK-U.S. alliance
- Maximize intangible combat power through realistic training and a clear perception of the enemy
The NSS makes it obvious that Seoul plans to address its security challenges by strengthening its alliance with the United States and its strategic partnerships with other countries; stepping up its contributions to strengthening the international order; and improving its military capabilities. Here, the NSS document seems to borrow heavily from the related policy documents released in recent months, including the December 2022 “Strategy for a Free, Peaceful and Prosperous Indo-Pacific Region” and the 2022 “Defense White Paper.”
The NSS document says that Seoul will adhere to Yoon’s North Korean policy, referred to as his “Audacious Initiative,” Seoul’s Indo-Pacific Strategy, and Korea-ASEAN Solidarity Initiative.
The “Audacious Initiative” is a promise that Seoul will provide comprehensive measures to improve the socio-economic condition of North Korea if the North returns to denuclearization talks and agrees to a roadmap to scrap its nuclear and missile programs.
South Korea’s Indo-Pacific Strategy, released last November, details Seoul’s responsible role in ensuring stability and shared prosperity in the Indo-Pacific and establishing an order based on norms and rules.
However, all said and done, if anything the NSS implies, it is that a robust U.S.-ROK alliance is the key facet of enhancing South Korea’s strategic capabilities in an environment where a durable and just peace continues to elude the Korean Peninsula even after the end of the Korean War decades ago.
Incidentally, July 2023 will mark the seventieth anniversary of the end of the Korean War.
- Author and veteran journalist Prakash Nanda is Chairman of the Editorial Board – EurAsian Times and has been commenting on politics, foreign policy, on strategic affairs for nearly three decades. A former National Fellow of the Indian Council for Historical Research and recipient of the Seoul Peace Prize Scholarship, he is also a Distinguished Fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.
- CONTACT: prakash.nanda (at) hotmail.com
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