SEOUL: South Korea and the United States conducted their first joint military drills featuring an American aircraft carrier in more than four years on Saturday (Jun 4), according to Seoul’s military, amid rumors that North Korea was preparing for a nuclear test.
The maneuvers, which lasted three days in international waters off the Japanese island of Okinawa, included air defense, anti-ship, anti-submarine, and maritime interdiction operations, according to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).
The drills coincided with indications that North Korea is preparing to perform a nuclear test for the first time since 2017. Pyongyang, according to Seoul sources, has undertaken numerous testing with a detonation device in preparation for its sixth underground explosion.
The drills were attended by the USS Ronald Reagan, a 100,000-ton nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, as well as the guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam, the Aegis-equipped USS Benfold destroyer, and the Fleet replenishment oiler USNS Big Horn, according to the JCS.
South Korea also supplied the 14,500-ton Marado amphibious landing ship, as well as the 7,600-ton Sejong the Great destroyer and the 4,400-ton Munmu the Great destroyer.
It was the first joint military exercise between the partners since South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol took office last month, and the first bilateral exercise involving an aircraft carrier since November 2017.
“The exercise consolidated the two countries’ determination to respond harshly to any North Korean provocations, while demonstrating the US commitment to provide extended deterrence,” the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.
At a recent summit with Yoon, US President Joe Biden pledged to deploy “strategic assets” – often aircraft carriers, long-range bomber aircraft, or missile submarines – if necessary to deter North Korea as part of measures to strengthen the extended deterrence.
Nuclear envoys from the United States, South Korea, and Japan gathered in Seoul on Friday to prepare for “all contingencies.”
In March, the USS Abraham Lincoln, an aircraft carrier, joined US military exercises in the Yellow Sea, following North Korea’s first comprehensive test of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) since 2017. In April, the USS Abraham Lincoln strike group also conducted operations in waters off the Korean peninsula.
During the most recent round of North Korean ICBM and nuclear tests in 2017, the USS Ronald Reagan, Theodore Roosevelt, and Nimitz, as well as their multi-ship strike groups, deployed near the peninsula in a show of force.
North Korea has long criticized joint military exercises between the United States and South Korea as a dress rehearsal for war.