Three US Navy aircraft carriers put on show of strength in the Western Pacific Ocean over the weekend, the first time three of the 100,000-ton behemoths have sailed together in a decade.
The USS Ronald Reagan, USS Theodore Roosevelt and USS Nimitz and their multi-ship strike groups are participating in the four days of exercises, which are expected to end Tuesday.
“Multiple carrier strike force operations are very complex, and this exercise in the Western Pacific is a strong testament to the US Pacific Fleet’s unique ability and ironclad commitment to the continued security and stability of the region,” Adm. Scott Swift, the commander of the US Pacific Fleet, said in a statement.
A South Korean Defense Ministry official said the three US carriers held drills on either side of the waters separating the Korean Peninsula and Japan. Exercises closest to the Korean coast involved US and South Korean ships, while those closest to Japan involved US and Japanese ships, the official said.
The presence of the three-carrier flotilla in Pacific waters is seen as a signal to North Korea that the US will not be intimidated by Pyongyang’s continued testing of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.
“We sent three of the largest aircraft carriers in the world (to the Korean Peninsula) and a nuclear submarine is also positioned,” US President Donald Trump said after his arrival in South Korea last week.
During his trip, Trump struck a tough tone on North Korea, calling for an end to its nuclear program and saying “we hope to God we never have to use” the military strength the US has on the Korean Peninsula.
But Pyongyang has seen any US military exercises as a threat and the presence of the three carriers has been received no differently.
The state-run Korean Central News Agency said Saturday that the presence of the three carriers was part of Washington’s “sinister intention to maintain military hegemony in the region.”
KCNA also cited other recent US military moves, such as the first deployment of stealthy US Air Force F-35 fighters to Okinawa, as signs Washington is ramping up for war against North Korea.
Pyongyang also accused the US and its allies, including Japan, of trying to “escalate the military tension and increase arms race in the region with each passing day.”
North Korean government officials told CNN’s Will Ripley in Pyongyang last week that the US was increasingly taking action that could “ignite another Korean War.”
“Nobody knows when and how the ‘war maniac’ Trump will ignite the ‘wick of war,'” the officials said, referring to the presence of the carriers near the peninsula.
Joining the three US carriers and their strike groups were three Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force warships including the helicopter destroyer JS Ise, a guided-missile destroyer and general purpose destroyer.
“The JMSDF is always using every opportunity to strengthen the JMSDF-USN alliance, and joining an exercise like this is a natural event to stabilize regional security,” a statement from the Maritime Self-Defense Force said.
South Korean vessels joined exercises with the US warships on Sunday, according to US Navy photos.
The South Korean Defense Ministry said it sent two destroyers equipped with the Aegis anti-ballistic missile defense system as well as five other warships to the exercises.
Each US aircraft carrier holds more than 60 aircraft, including F/A-18 fighter jets, airborne early warning and control aircraft and helicopters for anti-submarine warfare.
The ships accompanying the carriers included destroyers and cruisers equipped with the Aegis system as well as Tomahawk cruise missiles. US attack submarines typically accompany US aircraft carrier strike groups, but the Navy usually keeps their specific locations secret.
The last time three US aircraft carrier strike groups worked together in the Western Pacific was off the US island of Guam in 2007, according to a Navy statement.