SEOUL, March 8 (Xinhua) -- The combined forces of South Korea and the United States kicked off their joint annual military exercises in a scaled-back manner amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Yonhap news agency said Monday citing the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).

The Combined Command Post Training (CCPT), or the annually-held computer-simulated command post exercise in springtime, was scheduled to last until March 18.

No field maneuvers will be staged this year amid the continued pandemic. Tough antivirus measures will be in place throughout the training period, an unnamed South Korean military official was quoted as saying.

In 2020, the two sides canceled the springtime command post exercise and carried out the summertime one in an adjusted manner amid the pandemic.

Boo Seung-chan, a spokesman of South Korea's defense ministry, told a press briefing that the verification of the Full Operational Capability (FOC) will be limited this year out of the comprehensive consideration of relevant conditions, such as the COVID-19 situation, combat readiness posture and efforts to settle peace on the Korean Peninsula.

The FOC verification is crucial in an early transfer of the wartime operational command of South Korean forces from the United States.

South Korea's wartime command was handed over to the U.S. forces after the 1950-53 Korean War broke out. South Korea won back its peacetime operational control in 1994.

Seoul and Washington had agreed to the conditions-based transfer of wartime operational control of South Korean troops from Washington to Seoul when South Korea's military is capable of leading the combined defense on the peninsula.

Boo noted that this year's CCPT will involve a part of a rehearsal for theater operations, led by the Combined Forces Command under the command of a four-star South Korean general.

South Korea has claimed that the joint annual military drills with the United States are defensive in nature, but the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) denounced it as a dress rehearsal for northward invasion.