SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan launched another round of naval exercises with South Korean warships on Friday, a day after North Korea fired more ballistic missiles and flew warplanes in an escalation of his weapons tests.
The Reagan and his battle group returned to waters near the Korean peninsula after North Korea launched a nuclear missile over Japan earlier this week in response to the carrier group’s previous training with South Korean naval vessels. North Korea considers military exercises between the US and South Korea a custom to invade the country.
The final two-day exercises, which also involved US and South Korean destroyers and other ships, took place in international waters off the eastern coast of the peninsula. The exercises are designed to bolster the Allies’ defense capabilities and include training to escort the Reagan southeast of South Korea’s southern Jeju island, South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff said in a statement.
“We will continue to strengthen our operational capabilities and readiness to respond to any provocation by North Korea,” the statement said.
North Korea could respond to the new exercises with more missile tests. The North’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Thursday that the reshuffle of the transport group “poses a serious threat to the stability of the situation on the Korean peninsula and in its environs”.
North Korea’s record rate of weapons tests this year aims to expand its arsenal so it can credibly threaten the US mainland and regional allies with nuclear weapons, then enter into negotiations with the US from a stronger position as a recognized nuclear state . Thursday’s two ballistic missile launches marked the sixth round of weapons firing in less than two weeks.
The North Korean intermediate-range missile tested on Tuesday resembled a Hwasong-12 missile capable of reaching the US Pacific region of Guam, observers say. Other missiles launched recently include short-range weapons aimed at South Korea.
North Korea is poised to conduct its first nuclear test in five years and is preparing to test a new liquid-fueled intercontinental ballistic missile and a submarine-launched ballistic missile, said South Korea’s Heo Tae-keun Deputy Secretary of National Defense Policy, against lawmakers earlier this week.
On Friday, Heo had trilateral video calls with his US and Japanese colleagues to discuss North Korea’s recent missile tests. They stressed that security cooperation between the three countries would be strengthened if the north continues with its provocations, the South Korean defense ministry said in a statement.
On Thursday, naval destroyers from the three countries conducted one-day joint exercises off the eastern coast of the Korean peninsula to hone their capabilities to search, track and intercept North Korean ballistic missiles. Last week they held anti-submarine drills in the area involving the Reagan.
North Korea also flew 12 warplanes dozens of miles from the inter-Korean border, prompting the South to scramble 30 military planes in response. There were no clashes.
The eight North Korean fighter jets and four bombers are said to have conducted air-to-ground target practice, the South Korean military said. The Yonhap news agency reported that it was probably the largest mobilization of North Korea’s warplanes for such an exercise near the border.
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