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U.S., S. Korea start joint naval drills after North Korean missile launch

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The United States and South Korea began four days of joint naval exercises featuring the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier on Monday, one day after the latest North Korean ballistic missile launch. Photo by Thomas Maresca/UPI | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/8864f8fd4a372e2a9ddeabd63d63b80d/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
The United States and South Korea began four days of joint naval exercises featuring the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier on Monday, one day after the latest North Korean ballistic missile launch. Photo by Thomas Maresca/UPI | License Photo

SEOUL, Sept. 26 (UPI) -- The United States and South Korea kicked off four days of joint naval exercises on Monday, one day after North Korea fired a short-range ballistic missile.

The drills, which are the first of their kind in five years, feature the nuclear-powered USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier and its strike group. The vessels arrived in the southeastern port city of Busan on Friday amid ongoing tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

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Pyongyang appeared to respond to the 1,100-foot, 97,000-ton carrier's arrival with the launch of a ballistic missile into the sea between Korea and Japan on Sunday morning. The missile traveled around 370 miles and reached a maximum altitude of 37 miles, Seoul's Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

This week's joint drills "demonstrate the strong will of the South Korea-U.S. alliance to respond to North Korean provocations," the South Korean navy said in a statement Monday.

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Some 20 vessels will take part in anti-submarine, anti-ship and air defense warfare operations as well as tactical maneuver training.

Joining the Ronald Reagan from its strike group are the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville and the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers USS Barry and USS Benfold. South Korean warships in the exercises include the 7,600-ton Aegis destroyer Seoae Ryu Sung-ryong and the 4,400-ton Munmu the Great destroyer.

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Aircraft from both militaries, including F/A-18 and F-15 fighter jets, maritime patrol aircraft and AH-64E Apache helicopters, will also participate.

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The allies "will demonstrate our strength and determination through this exercise," U.S. Rear Adm. Buzz Donnelly, the carrier strike group's commander, said in the South Korean statement.

Washington and Seoul have ramped up their military engagement in recent months under the administration of South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, who has looked to take a stronger stance against an increasingly truculent North. The allies returned to full-scale field exercises last month for the first time since 2018, drawing a furious reaction from North Korea, which has long characterized the exercises as a rehearsal for an invasion.

Pyongyang has conducted a record number of weapons tests this year, including firing its first intercontinental ballistic missile since 2017, and officials in Seoul and Washington have assessed that the secretive regime is poised for its seventh nuclear detonation. North Korea recently announced a new law officially declaring itself a nuclear weapons state and giving it the right to launch preemptive nuclear strikes.

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Earlier this month, the United States committed to deploy "strategic assets" such as the USS Ronald Reagan to South Korea and the allies warned that any nuclear attack by the North would "be met with an overwhelming and decisive response."

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The naval drills come ahead of a scheduled visit to South Korea later this week by U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris.

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