x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 18 October 2017

US and South Korea launch war games at sea

The United States is ramping up military drills with South Korea and Japan, its two closest allies in the region.

The USS Michigan (SSGN 727), the second Ohio-class nuclear-powered guided missile submarine in the US Navy, is docked at naval base in Busan, South Korea,  October 13,2017.  Jeon Heon-Kyun / EPA
The USS Michigan (SSGN 727), the second Ohio-class nuclear-powered guided missile submarine in the US Navy, is docked at naval base in Busan, South Korea, October 13,2017. Jeon Heon-Kyun / EPA

The United States and South Korea will kick off a major navy drill in the coming week in fresh show of force against North Korea over its missile and nuclear tests.

Tensions over North Korea's weapons programme have soared in recent months with Pyongyang launching a flurry of missiles and conducting its sixth and most powerful nuclear test in defiance of multiple sets of UN sanctions.

The United States has since ramped up military drills with South Korea and Japan, its two closest allies in the region.

The US 7th Fleet said the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier and two US destroyers would take part in the drill alongside South Korean Navy vessels.

The exercise, slated for October 16 to 26 in the Sea of Japan and the Yellow Sea, would promote "communications, interoperability, and partnership," said a statement from the US Navy.

The move is likely to enrage Pyongyang which has previous warned against any upcoming joint exercises.

"If US imperialists and the South Korean puppets ignite a nuclear war of aggression against us, it would only advance their own demise," the state-run KCNA news agency said.

There has been a flurry of US military hardware movement around the Korean peninsula in recent days. Yonhap news agency reported the arrival on Friday of the nuclear-powered USS Michigan submarine at South Korea's southern port of Busan, only days after another nuclear-powered submarine -- the USS Tuscon — left after a five-day visit.

Earlier this week the US flew two supersonic heavy bombers over the Korean peninsula, staging the first night-time joint aviation exercises with Japan and South Korea. That mission came 17 days after four US F-35B stealth fighter jets and two B-1Bs flew over the peninsula.

President Donald Trump has engaged in an increasingly inflammatory war of words with North Korean strongman Kim Jong-UnKim Jong-un, trading insults amid rising tensions between the two nuclear-armed rivals. On Tuesday he discussed "a range of options" with his national security team to respond to North Korea's recent missile and nuclear tests.

He has also voiced his firm belief that diplomatic efforts with North Korea have consistently failed, adding "only one thing will work".

North Korea's missile and nuclear capabilities have made significant progress under Mr Kim, who on Saturday told party officials that the country's atomic weapons were a "treasured sword" to protect it from aggression.