A US Navy aircraft carrier, the USS Ronald Reagan, along with its warship escorts joined Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN) warships for exercises for the first joint naval drills between the two navies near the Korean Peninsula in almost five years on Monday, a day after Pyongyang conducted a ballistic missile launch.
More than 20 U.S. 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 navy statement. It said US and South Korean fighter jets and helicopters will also take part in the training.
It would be the first such joint drills involving a U.S. aircraft carrier near the peninsula since 2017, when the U.S. sent three aircraft carriers including the Reagan for naval drills with South Korea in response to North Korean nuclear and missile tests.
The allies had since cancelled or downsized some of their regular drills to support now-dormant talks on North Korea’s nuclear program or guard against COVID-19.
An 'act of grave provocation'
Seoul said the the launch was an "act of grave provocation". The United Nations (UN) prohibits North Korea from ballistic and nuclear weapons tests.
Seoul had also detected signs the North was preparing to fire a Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM), the president's office said Saturday, a weapon Pyongyang last tested in May.
South Korea's military said it detected a short range missile fired at just before 07:00 local time, close to Taechon, more than 100 km north of Pyongyang. It said it flew about 600 km at an altitude of 60 km.
"Our military maintains a full readiness posture and is closely cooperating with the US while strengthening surveillance and vigilance," it said in a statement.
Japan's coast guard confirmed the launch, warning ships to "be vigilant". Tokyo's defence minister Yasukazu Hamada said the missile reached a maximum altitude of around 50 km, falling in waters off North Korea's eastern coast, and outside Japan's exclusive economic zone.
"It's North Korea's way of showing defiance of the [US] alliance," Soo Kim, an analyst at the Rand Corporation, told AFP.
Some experts say North Korea might have launched a nuclear-capable, highly maneuverable ballistic missile and that its 600 kilometer-flight had enough range to strike a southeastern South Korean port where the Reagan was previously docked.
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