The USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier was conducting joint exercises with a Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer in the waters near Okinawa on Wednesday, the two countries’ militaries said, amid rising tensions with North Korea.
The exercises involving the two allies are the latest in a string of joint drills held amid a spate of missile launches — including two over Japan — by nuclear-armed North.
The drills came on the heels of an exercise a day earlier that saw U.S. Air Force B-1B heavy bombers from Guam link up with their Japanese and South Korean counterparts for bilateral missions. The U.S.-South Korean show of force saw the two militaries conduct a missile drill off the South’s eastern and western coasts, flying over the Korean Peninsula in the process.
The U.S. and MSDF vessels involved in the ongoing drill had sailed through the Bashi Channel, a strategic waterway between the Philippines and Taiwan, into the waters off Okinawa, Southwest of North Korea.
The Reagan and its escort vessels had visited Hong Kong for a rare port call earlier this month and was expected to sail on to the Sea of Japan, where it would conduct joint drills with the South Korean Navy as a show of deterrence against North Korea.
Media reports citing South Korean defense officials have said the Reagan was expected to arrive in the waters by Sunday.
Also Wednesday, the U.S. Pacific Command revealed that the USS Tucson, a nuclear-powered fast-attack submarine equipped with Tomahawk cruise missiles, had arrived in South Korea last weekend as part of its regional deployment.
North Korea conducted its sixth and largest nuclear test, purportedly of a hydrogen bomb, last month and has launched dozens of missiles this year as it moves closer to mastering the capability to reliably target the United States with a nuclear-tipped, long-range missile.
In July, it conducted two tests of an intercontinental ballistic missile that experts say is capable of striking a large chunk of the U.S.
There has been mounting speculation that the North might stage its latest missile launch in the coming weeks, possibly ahead of the Chinese Communist Party’s twice-a-decade national congress, which kicks off on Oct. 18.
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