SEOUL, The U.S. military plans to send a key amphibious assault ship, used for a detachment of F-35B vertical landing stealth fighter jets, to a combined exercise with South Korea in April, a defense source here said Monday.
The allies' Marines are scheduled to start the Ssangyong (double dragon) exercise here early next month in connection with the Foal Eagle training. They have yet to announce an exact schedule.
Among U.S. assets to take part in the Ssangyong drill are the USS Wasp, the Navy's 40,500-ton multipurpose amphibious assault ship.
Commissioned in 1989, it can hold around 2,200 Marines, smaller amphibious assault crafts and around 31 aircraft, including MV-22 Ospreys.
A squadron of F-35Bs eligible for short take-offs and vertical landings was recently deployed aboard the USS Wasp, operating in Asia, as a replacement to the USS Bonhomme Richard, a Wasp-class amphibious assault ship.
The U.S. is unlikely to deploy an aircraft carrier, which is categorized as a strategic asset, to this year's Foal Eagle amid a mood of detente on the peninsula. The USS Carl Vinson participated in last year's training.
The allies are expected to wrap up this year's exercise before the inter-Korean summit slated to be held in late April.
They plan to kick off the Foal Eagle field training around April 1 followed by the opening of the command-post Key Resolve maneuver a few weeks later, according to multiple media reports.
South Korean defense officials remained tightlipped on the exact schedule and scale of the drills.
"Currently, consultations are under way on the issue," Choi Hyun-soo, spokesperson for the Ministry of National Defense, said at a press briefing. "As we said previously, we will make an announcement after the (PyeongChang) Paralympics finish (on March 18). We will be able to tell you next week."
South Korea and the U.S. usually begin the Foal Eagle training in late February or early March. This year, however, they postponed it until after the end of the PyeongChang Olympic Games in a bid to help ease military tensions in Korea.
Source: Yonhap News Agency