US aircraft carrier in new drills as North Korean tension simmers

The nuclear-powered USS Ronald Reagan and its battle group have returned to waters near the Korean peninsula for drills.

The USS Ronald Reagan approaches a port in Busan, South Korea, on September 23, 2022 [Yonhap via Reuters]
The USS Ronald Reagan approaches a port in Busan, South Korea, on September 23, 2022 [File: Yonhap via Reuters]

The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan has launched a new round of naval drills with South Korean warships in response to North Korea’s latest launch of ballistic missiles and the flying of warplanes near the South Korean border.

The Reagan aircraft carrier and its battle group returned to waters near the Korean peninsula and began two days of drills on Friday aimed at bolstering South Korean and United States defence capabilities, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.

“We will continue to strengthen our operational capabilities and readiness to respond to any provocations by North Korea through joint drills,” the joint chiefs said in a statement on Friday.

The US naval strike group had already participated in missile defence exercises with warships from Japan and South Korea following North Korea’s launch of a ballistic missile on Tuesday that overflew part of Japan.


On Thursday, Pyongyang launched two more short-range ballistic missiles into waters off its east coast and later flew eight fighter jets and four bombers in formation just dozens of kilometres from the inter-Korean border.

South Korea’s air force scrambled 30 military planes in response to what is believed to have been the largest deployment of North Korean warplanes near the South Korean border.

The US Department of Defense said that in response to North Korea’s “provocative actions” this week, the Ronald Reagan carrier strike group had been joined in the Sea of Japan by Japanese and South Korean navy destroyers to conduct ballistic missile defence exercises.

“These exercises send a clear message of allied unity,” Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brigadier General Pat Ryder said on Thursday, adding that the US, Japan and South Korea would be “resolute against those who challenge regional stability”.

North Korea said earlier this week that it had launched the ballistic missile over Japan in response to the US carrier group’s earlier training with South Korean navy ships.

The North’s foreign ministry said on Thursday that the US naval redeployment posed “a serious threat to the stability of the situation on the Korean peninsula and in its vicinity”.

Pyongyang has long viewed joint US-South Korean military exercises as preparations for invasion and the latest drills will likely be met with a response from North Korea.

Heo Tae-keun, South Korea’s deputy minister of national defence policy, told politicians earlier this week that the North is ready to conduct its first nuclear test in five years and is preparing to test a new liquid-fuelled intercontinental ballistic missile and a submarine-launched ballistic missile.

Ankit Panda, an expert on North Korea and current Stanton senior fellow in the nuclear policy programme at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said that the North could conduct a test with little notice as the site is largely prepared.

If North Korean leader Kim Jong Un gave the order, “a test could then take place within 24-48 hours, I suspect,” Panda told Al Jazeera.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies