This time joint military drills between South Korea and the United States would be a nine-day affair. It would be scaled down because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Such exercises aim to keep the military battle-ready with the latest systems related to attack and defense. These involve sophisticated equipment. This year, there would be a computer-simulated exercise. It would intend to allow the men to get familiar with computerized applications. The Joint Chiefs of Staff said the exercise would be "strictly defensive" in nature. A media report says there would not be any outdoor activities involved.

Moreover, the number of participants and equipment would be considerably less due to the pandemic.

Al Jazeera says even though the military drills would be restricted to certain aspects, North Korea could interpret them differently and describe them as "rehearsal for war." The JCS said both sides decided to proceed with the military drill after weighing all the pros and cons. They want to maintain combat readiness and ensure the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula apart from establishing peace. Such an exercise is necessary to transfer operational control OPCON from the United States to South Korea when the time comes. In August 2017, North Korea said it was against military drills held by the US and South Korea.

Scaling down military drills is not new

There are thousands of American troops stationed in South Korea. Ever since the 1950-1953 Korean War, the US and South Korea's militaries joined forces to check on situations in the region. No one wanted to escalate tensions. Moon Jae-in is the president of South Korea. He is keen to obtain operational control of those joint forces.

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Al Jazeera says this is a major goal of his administration. The drills' scale reduction was probably to prepare the ground for negotiating with North Korea on its nuclear programs. Coronavirus pandemic was another reason. In August 2019, the North fired missiles into the sea when the US conducted military drills with the South.

Would low-key military drills help the cause?

Seoul wants to prove its readiness to take over OPCON. However, the low-key nature of the military drills could complicate matters for Moon Jae-un. Al Jazeera adds his term in office ends in 2022, and he would like to see the transfer happen before he leaves. Talks on denuclearization between leaders of North Korea and the United States broke down in February 2019. Subsequently, Kim Jong-un pledged in January to expand his programs of nuclear weapons. In March last year, North Korea launched missiles off its east coast. The upcoming military drills could prompt him to restart the testing of his missiles. Incidentally, the hermit kingdom has internal problems.

It is under US-led sanctions, and coronavirus forced it to close its border with China. The result is food shortages on a large scale apart from malnutrition.

This time military drills would be mostly tabletop exercises

According to Los Angeles Times, the military drills' format would be less of field activities and more of tabletop exercises and simulations. This will extend support to diplomacy surrounding the nuclear program of North Korea and be in keeping with the guidelines of the COVID-19 protocol. They canceled last year's springtime drills because of infection among some of their troops. The disease is highly contagious, and the advice is to avoid direct contact with others. That becomes difficult during military operations.

In experts' opinion, Kim Jong-un might treat the military drills as provocation and retort with his high-profile missile tests' resumption. An official of South Korea says the allies have continued to stage field exercises throughout the year. This is important to maintain their readiness.