SEOUL, South Korea and the United States plan to increase the number of combined marine exercises next year after their number was reduced this year amid efforts to ease tensions with North Korea, Seoul's Marine Corps said Friday.

During a parliamentary audit at the Gyeryongdae military headquarters, 160 kilometers south of Seoul, the armed service said the allies plan to hold 24 rounds of Korea Marine Exercise Program (KMEP) next year. The drills are designed to bolster defense of the South's northwestern border islands.

"To enhance combined operational capabilities, we will activate allied exercises," the Marine Corps said.

The KMEP was conducted 14 times in 2016 and 17 times last year. This year, the allies scaled back its original plan to stage it 19 times to facilitate ongoing efforts for the North's denuclearization and a lasting peace regime on the peninsula.

During the audit, the Marine Corps also mentioned its push to introduce attack helicopters. It plans to conduct preliminary research on the chopper acquisition from late this year to the second quarter of next year.

Source: Yonhap News Agency