Noise complaints from locals living near training areas in South Korea have forced American aircrews to go off-peninsula to maintain their live-fire qualifications, U.S. Forces Korea Gen. Robert Abrams said Thursday.
Mil-to-mil relations with Republic of Korea forces and the South Korean people remain solid, Abrams said, but he acknowledged "bumps along the road" with training in the COVID-19 era.
Other commands have had to "hit the pause level on training. We have not," he said.
However, "there are some complaints coming from the Korean people about noise … particularly for company-level live fire."
Abrams said aircrews have been sent to training areas in other countries to maintain their qualifications, adding that he hopes to find other solutions.
"The bottom line is that forces stationed here to maintain the high level of readiness have to have reliable, accessible training areas, specifically for company-level live fire, which is the gold standard for war fighting readiness with aviation," Abrams said. "We're not there right now."
In an online session with experts at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Abrams also took note of a recent lack of provocations and inflammatory rhetoric from North Korea following three typhoons and the shutdown of its border with China due to COVID-19.
"The reduction in tensions is palpable; it's verifiable," he said. "Things right now are generally pretty calm."
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is expected to put on a massive parade and demonstration Oct. 10 to mark the 75th anniversary of the ruling Workers Party, but Abrams said he is doubtful that the North will use the occasion to show off a new weapon system.
"There are people suggesting that perhaps there will be a rollout of a new weapon system. Maybe, but we're not seeing any indications right now of any sort of lashing out," he said.
However, Sue Mi Terry, a senior CSIS fellow and former CIA analyst, said in the online session with Abrams that Kim might be tempted to renew provocations ahead of U.S. elections in November.
And if former Vice President Joe Biden were to defeat President Donald Trump, Kim could feel compelled to test his resolve, Terry said.
"Certainly, North Korea is dealing with a lot of domestic challenges," she said. "I don't think they'll do anything provocative until the elections.
"North Korea has always resorted to brinkmanship. They will have to dial up pressure," Terry added.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.