South Korea and the United States hold rare exercises with an air carrier

SEOUL, June 4 (Reuters) – South Korea and the United States have held their first combined military drills involving a U.S. aircraft carrier in more than four years, Seoul’s military said on Saturday, as South Korea North was preparing for a nuclear test.

The three-day exercises were held in international waters off the Japanese island of Okinawa until Saturday, including air defence, anti-ship, anti-submarine and maritime interdiction operations, the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said.

The drills came amid signs that North Korea is preparing to conduct a nuclear test for the first time since 2017. Seoul officials said Pyongyang had conducted several experiments with a detonation device in preparation for its seventh underground explosion. Read more

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The 100,000-ton nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan joined the exercises, alongside the guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam, the Aegis-equipped destroyer USS Benfold and the fleet replenishment tanker USNS Big Horn, the JCS said.

South Korea also sent the 14,500-ton amphibious landing ship Marado, the 7,600-ton destroyer Sejong le Grand and the 4,400-ton destroyer Munmu le Grand, among others.

It was the allies’ first joint military exercise since South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol took office last month, and their first bilateral exercises involving an aircraft carrier since November 2017.

The South Korean and American flags fly next to each other in Yongin, South Korea, August 23, 2016. Courtesy Ken Scar/US Army/Handout via REUTERS

“The exercise solidified both countries’ resolve to respond forcefully to any North Korean provocation, while demonstrating the U.S. commitment to providing widespread deterrence,” the JCS said in a statement.

At a recent summit with Yoon, US President Joe Biden promised to deploy “strategic assets” – which usually include aircraft carriers, long-range bombers or missile submarines – if needed to deter North Korea as part of efforts to enhance extended deterrence. Read more

On Friday, nuclear envoys from the United States, South Korea and Japan gathered in Seoul to prepare for “all eventualities”. Read more

The USS Abraham Lincoln, an aircraft carrier, conducted US military exercises in the Yellow Sea in March after North Korea conducted a full test of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) for the first time since 2017 The USS Abraham Lincoln Strike Group also operated in waters off the Korean Peninsula in April.

In the last major wave of North Korean ICBM and nuclear testing in 2017, the USS Ronald Reagan, Theodore Roosevelt and Nimitz aircraft carriers, and their multi-ship strike groups, deployed near the peninsula in a demonstration of strength.

North Korea has long criticized joint US-South Korean military exercises as a rehearsal for war.

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Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Bonny J. Streater