(LEAD) S. Korea, U.S. to launch annual joint military drills next week

South Korea and the United States plan to kick off major combined military drills next week, South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said Wednesday, as the allies seek to bolster joint readiness against evolving military threats from North Korea. The annual Freedom Shield (FS) exercise, which is set to take place from Monday to March 14, comes at a time of heightened tension over North Korea's slew of cruise missile tests and conducting live-fire drills near the western maritime border in January, which led to scrapping buffer zones created under a 2018 inter-Korean military agreement. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's calling the Northern Limit Line, a de facto maritime border, as a "ghost line" further stoked concerns over accidental clashes near the tensely guarded western sea border. The computer simulation-based command post exercise, which also includes field training, is aimed at strengthening the combined defense posture based on scenarios that reflect diverse security threats, including North K orea's nuclear operations, by leveraging land, sea, air, cyber and space assets, the JCS said in a release. "There will be a variety of combined field training exercises in sea-land-air to increase interoperability and enhance the combined operation capabilities of the alliance," JCS spokesperson Col. Lee Sung-jun said in a joint press briefing. The two nations' troops will feature 48 field training exercises across the country, double the number from last year's FS, but no joint maneuvers are scheduled near the border with North Korea during the period, JCS spokesperson Col. Lee Sung-jun said in a joint press briefing. "As the exercise will be held by simulating various scenarios, it will include practice detecting and intercepting North Korea's cruise missiles," Lee said. USFK spokesperson Col. Isaac Taylor said the joint drills are defensive in nature to deter and respond to North Korean threats, and will adhere to the guidelines outlined in the Armistice Agreement. "We continue to rehearse during the se exercises on what needs to be done to defend the Korean Peninsula," Taylor said. North Korea has long denounced joint military drills between Seoul and Washington as rehearsals for an invasion. During the exercise, service members from 12 member states of the United Nations Command (UNC) will participate in the drills, and the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission (NNSC) will observe them. The U.S.-led multinational command was established in 1950 under a U.N. mandate to support South Korea against North Korea's aggression, and the NNSC has been overseeing the armistice that halted the 1950-53 Korean War. Source: Yonhap News Agency