US Army helicopters conduct first live fire exercise in South Korea since 2019

Drills have resumed at the Rodriguez Combat Fire Compound south of the heavily fortified demilitarized zone (DMZ) along the border, after being canceled in recent years when nearby residents complained about noise and security concerns.

Last week, AH-64E Apache helicopters participating in a certification exercise showed video images and photos released by the US 2nd Infantry Division.

“The crews qualify both day and night, wielding the AGM-114 Hellfire missile, the Hydra 70 missile and the 30mm cannon,” the division said in a Twitter post.

The exercise began after the allies announced they would resume other field exercises during a joint exercise cut back by several years due to Covid-19 and efforts to reduce tensions with the North.

A US Army Apache helicopter trains in Pocheon, South Korea, on July 25.
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, who took office in May, promised to “normalize” joint training and strengthen deterrence against the North.

In response to the complaints, Defense Department officials said the Apache exercise would also measure the level of noise it makes.

US Forces in Korea (USFK) did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The lack of live fire training was a “big problem” for US pilots and aircrews, according to a former senior US Department of Defense official.

“At the time they left (from South Korea), they were less prepared than when they arrived,” he told Reuters on condition of anonymity to discuss US military operations.

He added that during the absence of live fire exercises, the Pentagon paid quarterly to send Apache crews back to the United States for qualifying exercises.

The problem worsened when the U.S. military stationed a formerly rotating Apache unit in South Korea in February, he said.

The administration of former South Korean President Moon Jae-in was not interested in overcoming political problems and resuming exercises, the former official said, predicting that Yoon would likely make more progress.