Read this in The Manila Times digital edition.
SEOUL: A United States aircraft carrier and its battle group launched drills with South Korean warships off the Korean Peninsula’s east coast on Monday in their first such training in five years, a day after North Korea test-fired a short-range ballistic missile in a possible response to the exercise.
Pyongyang could conduct more tests in the coming days, as it views the US-South Korean military exercises as practice for an invasion and often reacts with displays of weapons designed to attack its rivals.
The four days of drills are aimed at demonstrating the allies’ “powerful resolve to respond to North Korean provocations” and improving their ability to perform joint naval operations, the South Korean Navy said in a statement.
More than 20 American and South Korean navy ships, including the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, a US cruiser, and South Korean and US destroyers, were mobilized for the drills, according to the statement. Fighter jets and helicopters from both countries will also take part in the training, it said.
It would be the first such joint drills involving a US aircraft carrier near the peninsula since 2017, when Washington sent three aircraft carriers, including the Reagan, for naval drills with Seoul in response to North Korean nuclear and missile tests. The allies had since canceled or downsized some of their regular drills to support now-dormant talks on North Korea’s nuclear program or guard against Covid-19.
The North Korean missile fired on Sunday flew about 600 kilometers (370 miles) at a maximum altitude of 60 km (37 mi) before falling into the waters off the North’s east coast, according to South Korean estimates. Some experts say Pyongyang might have launched a nuclear-capable, highly maneuverable ballistic missile and that its 600-km flight had enough range to strike a southeastern South Korean port where the Reagan was previously docked.
North Korea has conducted a record number of missile tests this year as it steadfastly rebuffs US and South Korean calls to resume nuclear diplomacy. Pyongyang has said it won’t return to talks unless Washington drops its hostile policies in an apparent reference to US-South Korean military drills and US-led economic sanctions on it.
Earlier this month, North Korea adopted a new law that authorized the preemptive use of nuclear weapons in some situations, a development that showed its increasingly aggressive nuclear doctrine.
Some analysts say North Korea would eventually aim for arms control negotiations with the US to get sanctions relief and other concessions in return for a partial surrender of its nuclear capability.