Three U.S. Navy nuclear-powered Nimitz-class aircraft carriers—the USS Ronald Reagan, USS Nimitz, USS Theodore Roosevelt—kicked off a four-day naval drill in the Western Pacific on November 11.
The drill is the first in a decade in the region involving a three-carrier strike force. Three aircraft carrier strike groups have last operated together in the Western Pacific during exercise Valiant Shield off the coast of Guam in 2006 and 2007 respectively. The unusual concentration of U.S. naval power takes place amid heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
The purpose of the drill in international waters is to showcase the U.S. Navy’s “unique capability to operate multiple carrier strike groups as a coordinate strike force effort,” the service said in a statement.” The exercise involves air defense drills, sea surveillance, replenishment at sea, defensive air combat training, and close-in coordinated maneuvers among others.
“It is a rare opportunity to train with two aircraft carriers together, and even rarer to be able to train with three,” said U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander, Admiral Scott Swift. “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.”
While operating in the Sea of Japan on November 12, the U.S. Navy carriers were joined by a fleet of Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) warships that included the JS Ise, a 1 3,950-ton Hyūga-class helicopter destroyer, the JS Makinami, a Takanami-class guided-missile antisubmarine warfare destroyer, and the lead ship of the Murasame-class of general purpose destroyers, JS Murasame.
According to a Japan Ministry of Defense (MoD) press statement, the two navies conducted various tactical exercises this Sunday aimed at improving the tactical skills of the JMSDF and enhancing collaboration with the U.S. Navy. The MSDF said it is “using every opportunity” to strengthen ties between the two navies, the Japan Times reports.
Following the bilateral JMSDF-US Navy exercise, the carriers strike groups linked up with seven Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN) warships including two Aegis guided missile destroyers for war games meant to deter North Korea. “The combined drills are to present our resolve and will to deter North Korea’s provocations and retaliate if provoked,” Yonhap news agency quoted a South Korean official as saying.
In a commentary released on November 11, the Korean Central News Agency, North Korea’s official media outlet, accused the United States of heightening tensions in the region and provoking an arms race. “The U.S. efforts to expand its military influence in Asia-Pacific and the movement of big neighboring powers to contain it escalate the military tension and increase arms race in the region with each passing day,” it said.