South Korea and the United States have started the largest joint military exercises in recent years, as North Korea has recently stepped up its missile tests, Reuters reports.

The annual drills are scheduled to end on September 1 and come after South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, who took office in May, vowed to step up deterrence against the North.

The military and civilian exercises are aimed at improving the country’s readiness to match changing patterns of warfare, with cyber threats against key facilities such as chip factories and supply chains, Yoon said.

The largest military exercises of 2017 so far

The drills are the largest since 2017, when they were scaled back due to COVID-19 as Yoon’s predecessor sought to resume talks with Pyongyang, which has called the drills a rehearsal for invasion.

North Korea fired two cruise missiles from its west coast last week after South Korea and the United States began preliminary training for the exercises.

North Korea has conducted missile tests at an unprecedented rate this year and is poised to conduct its seventh nuclear test at any moment, officials in Seoul have said.

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