With tensions running high amid North Korea's latest missile tests, South Korea's defense ministry has announced the start of this year's Key Resolve exercises.
The drills started Monday and will continue for approximately two weeks until March 24th in tandem with the Foal Eagle drills that began on March 1st and run through April 30th.
Military officials also say that the drills will be conducted under the assumption that that the THAAD missile defense system has already been installed on the Korean peninsula.
They've also said a variety of other U.S. strategic weaponry would be deployed, including the nuclear-power aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, which is expected to arrive in Busan on Wednesday, and a special squadron of F-35B stealth fighters from U.S. Forces Japan that are expected to join the exercises sometime this week.
In related news, it appears that the United States has started the process of sending a fleet of Gray Eagle attack drones to its military base in Gunsan, Jeollabuk-do province, following an agreement with the South Korean military.
The drones have previously been deployed to various conflict zones in Afghanistan and Iraq to conduct reconnaissance or precision-strike missions on enemy command posts and it is widely believed that they will be used for similar purposes in drills against North Korea.
The drones are 8 meters long, with a 17-meter wingspan, and can fly for more than 30 hours. at speeds of 280 kilometers per hour.
The drones can also be equipped with Hellfire air-to-surface missiles or other GPS-aided anti-tank munitions.
While the drones were originally slated to be deployed to South Korea only in crisis situations,
it now appears that the U.S. has decided to have them at the ready, amid North Korea's escalating threats.
Kim Jung-soo, Arirang News.