The United States and South Korea said on Friday they would start two major annual joint military exercises in February and March despite the sensitive power transition under way in North Korea.
The Key Resolve drill will start on February 27 and continue until March 9. Separately, a joint air, ground and naval field training exercise known as Foal Eagle will be held from March 1 to April 30.
Seoul and Washington, which bases 28,500 troops in the South, say the drills are defensive and routine but the North habitually terms them a rehearsal for invasion.
Key Resolve, a computerised command post exercise, involves about 200,000 South Korean troops and 2,100 US soldiers.
It is “routine and defence-oriented, designed to enhance readiness, protect the region and maintain stability on the Korean peninsula”, general James D. Thurman, commander of US troops in South Korea, said in a statement.
“It is based on realistic scenarios, using various assumed threats,” he said.
Foal Eagle will include about 11,000 US forces along with South Korean troops in division-sized or smaller units, US authorities said.
North Korea has denounced the exercises as warmongering.
The North has taken a hostile tone with the South since its leader Kim Jong-Il died on December 17 and was replaced by his youngest son Jong-Un.
The new leader has been appointed armed forces chief and has visited several units in an apparent attempt to burnish his military credentials.
Cross-border tensions have been high since the South accused the North of torpedoing a warship with the loss of 46 lives in March 2010.
The North denied involvement but eight months later shelled a border island and killed four South Koreans.