The U.S. Navy announced Wednesday that it will commence rare three-carrier strike force exercises in the Western Pacific starting this weekend and coinciding with the final leg of President Donald Trump’s Asia tour.
The exercises, which will run from Saturday through Tuesday, will involve the Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture-based USS Ronald Reagan as well as the USS Nimitz and USS Theodore Roosevelt strike groups.
Preparations were underway to have Self-Defense Force ships and aircraft join the exercise, Kyodo News quoted a Japanese government source as saying.
It will be the first time three carrier strike groups have operated together in the area since 2007, and comes amid growing tensions on the Korean Peninsula over Pyongyang’s nuclear arms and ballistic missile programs.
The move is widely seen as a push by Washington to demonstrate its commitment to its allies in the region, including Japan, amid the uptick in tensions with North Korea.
“It is a rare opportunity to train with two aircraft carriers together, and even rarer to be able to train with three,” U.S. Pacific Fleet chief Adm. Scott Swift said in a statement. “Multiple carrier strike force operations are very complex, and this exercise in the western Pacific is a strong testament to the U.S. Pacific Fleet’s unique ability and ironclad commitment to the continued security and stability of the region.”
The last time three carrier strike groups operated together in the area was in 2006 and 2007 under the auspices of the Valiant Shield exercises off the coast of Guam. Both exercises focused on the ability to rapidly bring together forces from three strike groups in response to any regional situation, the navy said. In recent months, U.S. Navy carriers have conducted dual-carrier strike group exercises in the Western Pacific, including in the contested South China Sea, East China Sea and Philippine Sea.
The U.S. has sent a number of its so-called strategic assets to the area — including carriers, heavy bombers and high-tech submarines — as part of a concerted push to heap pressure on North Korea to rein in its nuclear and missile programs.
Just days ahead of Trump’s visit to Japan, the first stop on his Asia tour, the U.S. sent two B-1B heavy bombers from Andersen Air Force Base on Guam for bilateral missions with South Korean Air Force fighter jets and Air Self-Defense Force warplanes.
Nuclear-armed North Korea has lashed out at the military muscle-flexing, which it calls a rehearsal for invasion.
In a commentary Monday, North Korean state-run media said that “that no one can predict when the lunatic old man of the White House, lost to senses, will start a nuclear war against the DPRK.”
“A touch-and-go situation is prevailing in the peninsula due to the U.S. and south Korean puppet forces’ military provocations,” the official Rodong Sinmun wrote.
“The situation strongly requires us to bolster up the nuclear deterrent for self-defense in every way to cope with the vicious moves of the enemies to isolate and stifle the DPRK, holding fast to the line of simultaneously developing the two fronts,” it added.