Two Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyers have left Sasebo naval base and are likely to take part in a drill with the U.S. aircraft carrier Carl Vinson, which is steaming toward the Korean Peninsula, Defense Ministry sources said Friday.
The date and location for the exercise have not been set yet, but the destroyers are likely to join the Carl Vinson strike group at some point.
The exercise is likely aimed at discouraging more missile and nuclear tests by North Korea next week.
MSDF destroyers conducted exercises with the USS Carl Vinson two times last month in the East China Sea, but the Japanese and U.S. governments have been considering another exercise amid concerns that North Korea may take further provocative steps around the 85th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People’s Army next Tuesday.
The U.S. Navy’s 3rd Fleet announced on April 8 that the Pacific commander had ordered the Carl Vinson strike group, which includes two guided-missile destroyers and a cruiser, to sail north after departing Singapore.
A naval official said at the time that the strike group would conduct activities near the Korean Peninsula and that it would take over a week to reach there.
The actual location of the carrier, however, has become a source of some controversy as many observers had assumed it was heading directly to the Korean Peninsula. President Donald Trump told Fox Business Network in an interview on April 11 that “we’re sending an armada.”
But U.S. media reported earlier this week that the carrier was still thousands of miles away from the peninsula as of last Saturday.
On Wednesday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer denied causing confusion over the issue. “The president said that we have an armada going towards the peninsula. That’s a fact. It happened — it is happening, rather,” he said at a press briefing.
The New York Times, quoting Defense Department officials, reported Tuesday that the Carl Vinson was “finally on a course for the Korean Peninsula” and that it is expected to arrive in the region next week.
The move comes as North Korea has shown signs of preparing for an intercontinental ballistic missile test and a sixth nuclear test.