Three mighty US aircraft carriers have teamed up with Japanese ships for joint naval exercises designed to send a clear warning to North Korea.
The four-day drills that began in waters off South Korea’s eastern coast came as President Donald Trump traded insults with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un.
The battle groups of the USS Ronald Reagan, the Theodore Roosevelt and the Nimitz will successively enter the exercise area during the drills that run until Tuesday, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said.
Three F/A-18E Super Hornets fly in formation over the aircraft carriers USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71), USS Nimitz (CVN 68) and their strike groups, along with ships from the Republic of Korea Navy as they transit the Western Pacific
The aircraft carriers USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) and USS Nimitz (CVN 68) are underway, conducting operations, in international waters as part of a three-carrier strike force exercise in the western Pacific
This image released by the US Navy on November 12, 2017, shows (front to back) the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force Takanami-class destroyer JS Makinami, the Murasame-class destroyer JS Inazuma, the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill, and the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Preble transiting the western Pacific Ocean
The three carriers will be likely together in the drills around Monday, according to a South Korean military official, who didn’t want to be named, citing office rules.
The exercises will also involve 11 U.S. Aegis ships and seven South Korean naval vessels, including two Aegis ships. The Aegis technology refers to missile tracking and guidance.
They will aim to enhance combined operation and aerial strike capabilities and also display ‘strong will and firm military readiness to defeat any provocation by North Korea with dominant force in the event of crisis,’ Seoul’s military said in a statement.
It’s the first time since a 2007 exercise near Guam that three U.S. carrier strike groups are operating together in the Western Pacific, according to the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet.
Two of US U.S. F/A-18, and Japan Air Self-Defense Force’s F-15 fly over the USS Ronald Reagan during a joint military exercise
The U.S. carriers also participated in separate exercises with three Japanese destroyers on Sunday.
The United States has been sending its strategic assets, also including long-range bombers, to the region more frequently for patrols or drills amid accelerating North Korean efforts to expand its nuclear weapons program.
In recent months, North Korea has tested intercontinental ballistic missiles that could reach the U.S. mainland with further development and has conducted its most powerful nuclear test. It also flew two new midrange missiles over Japan and threatened to launch them toward Guam, a U.S. Pacific territory and military hub.
Trump has been working to rally global pressure against North Korea’s nuclear weapons program on a trip to Asia. That includes a stern speech delivered in South Korea’s National Assembly on Tuesday, in which he said: ‘Do not underestimate us. And do not try us…The weapons you’re acquiring are not making you safer, they are putting your regime in grave danger. Every step you take down this dark path increases the peril you face.’
On Saturday, Kim’s government responded by accusing Trump of trying to demonize North Korea, keep it apart from the international community and undermine its government.
‘Reckless remarks by an old lunatic like Trump will never scare us or stop our advance,’ the North’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement. ‘On the contrary, all this makes us more sure that our choice to promote economic construction at the same time as building up our nuclear force is all the more righteous, and it pushes us to speed up the effort to complete our nuclear force.’
In response to that Trump tweeted from Hanoi on Sunday morning: ‘Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me ‘old,’ when I would NEVER call him ‘short and fat?”
Trump goes on to say sarcastically, ‘Oh well, I try so hard to be his friend – and maybe someday that will happen!’