The US military starts joint naval missile-defense drills with South Korea and Japan to counter the “growing threat” posed by North Korea.
The three-day war games kicked off amid concerns that Pyongyang may test-fire an intercontinental ballistic missile or “stage another provocation in connection with Donald Trump’s inauguration ceremony,” US-based military.com reported on Saturday.
According to the report, among the warships taking part in the naval exercise were Japan-based guided-missile destroyer USS Stethem, Japan’s JDS Kirishima and South Korea’s Sejong the Great, which conducted “missile detection and tracking drills in the waters off the divided peninsula and Japan.”
No missiles were fired during the drills as the Aegis-equipped warships faced simulated targets in waters within the 7th Fleet area of operations, according to US Naval Forces Korea spokesman Josh Kelsey.
“The US Navy continually seeks every occasion to strengthen relationships and interoperability with participating allies and partners, while further developing maritime capabilities and capacity,” he said in a statement.
The naval exercise, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency, is the third of its kind after identical maneuvers in June and November 2015.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un declared recently that his country is in the “final stages” of developing an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM), which would constitute a major step towards the nation’s stated aim of reaching the capability of targeting the US mainland as a deterrent measure against persisting military provocations by Washington and Seoul.
This is while Trump, who has not yet stated his policies concerning North Korea, responded to Kim’s declaration on Twitter by stating, “It won’t happen!”
North Korea’s foreign ministry, meanwhile, reacted swiftly by insisting that “the ICBM will be launched anytime and anywhere” as ordered by the country’s leadership.
While experts remain divided over how close Pyongyang is to developing an ICBM and miniaturizing nuclear warheads that would fit on one, some agree that it may come by the end of the current decade.
Moreover, Yonhap has also cited unnamed military sources in the country as saying that the North has probably built two new ICBMs and placed them on mobile launchers to prepare for a test. The defense ministry, however, said that it could not confirm the report.