Four U.S. Navy Aegis ships arrive in S. Korea for Foal Eagle exercise

By Kim Eun-jung

SEOUL, March 10 (Yonhap) -- Four U.S. Navy Aegis ships arrived in three ports of South Korea on Saturday to participate in the Foal Eagle combat field training to enhance their joint military readiness, according to the U.S. Navy's website.

Two Aegis guided-missile destroyers, USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG 54) and USS Lassen (DDG 82), arrived at the western port of Pyeongtaek, just south of Seoul, while the other two -- USS Lake Erie (CG 70) and USS Howard (DDG 83) -- reached their respective destinations of Mokpo on the southwest coast and Donghae on the east coast.

The Foal Eagle exercise began on Feb. 24 to practice training scenarios, carrying out a set of ground, air, naval, expeditionary and special operations across South Korea. The routing drills involving 7,500 American troops, including 5,100 from abroad, run through April 18.

"As navies, we achieve readiness and enhance teamwork by spending time at sea together," said Rear Adm. Lisa Franchetti, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Korea. "That is why we are active year round in conducting routine exercises together like Foal Eagle with our Republic of Korea navy counterparts."

The training incorporates scenarios such as gunnery exercises, communication drills, dynamic ship maneuvers, logistical rehearsals and liaison officer exchanges with the South Korean counterparts, the U.S. Navy said.

It is rare for four Aegis ships to visit major ports of South Korea at the same time, especially with the massive, 9,600-ton USS Lake Erie entering the Mokpo port, which features relatively shallow waters than other naval bases, according to military officials.

"U.S. 7th Navy ships' making port visits to an ally's naval base is one of the important exercises," a South Korean Navy official said, asking for anonymity as he is not authorized to talk to media. "As naval ships transport military equipment in times of war, they have to figure out the necessary ocean surface topography in advance."

Last week, a nuclear-powered U.S. submarine and the U.S. 7th Fleet commandship, forward deployed from Japan's Yokosuka base, arrived in the southeastern port city of Busan to jointly conduct maritime operations in waters surrounding the Korean Peninsula.

The ships' arrival comes shortly after North Korea fired off several short-range missiles and rockets with varying ranges from its southeastern coast as a show of force against joint South Korea-U.S. drills. The communist regime denounced the joint exercise as a "war rehearsal" and claimed its missile drills were held for "self-defense" purposes.

Separate from the Foal Eagle, South Korea and the U.S. carried out a computer-simulated exercise called Key Resolve from Feb. 24-March 6, involving some 10,000 South Korean troops and 5,200 U.S. forces.

About 28,500 American troops are stationed in South Korea to help deter North Korean aggression, as the Korean War ended in a truce, without a peace treaty.

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