Nuclear-powered submarine USS Annapolis (front) and aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan took part in naval drills with Japan and South Korea on Friday. Photo courtesy of Republic of Korea Ministry of Defense
SEOUL, Sept. 30 (UPI) -- The United States, Japan and South Korea conducted a trilateral anti-submarine training exercise on Friday near the Korean Peninsula for the first time in five years amid a flurry of North Korean missile launches.
The drill came as North Korea fired short-range ballistic missiles on Wednesday and Thursday to bookend a visit to South Korea by U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris.
Pyongyang also launched a missile on Sunday, in an apparent response to the arrival of the nuclear-powered USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier in the southeastern port of Busan.
The Ronald Reagan and its strike group took part in the drill alongside South Korean and Japanese destroyers, according to a statement by the South Korean navy.
As part of the exercise, each country's vessels searched, identified and tracked a nuclear-powered fast attack submarine, the USS Annapolis, in the waters of the East Sea.
"This exercise will be an opportunity to improve the capability of performing trilateral anti-submarine operations to counter the North Korean [surface-launched ballistic missile] threat," Capt. Cho Choong-ho, commander of the South Korean navy's participating forces, said in the statement.
South Korean officials announced last week that they were on alert for the possible firing of an SLBM by North Korea.
Pyongyang has conducted a record number of weapons tests this year, and officials in Washington and Seoul say that the secretive regime is poised for a nuclear detonation -- its seventh overall and first since 2017 -- at any time.
The United States and South Korea 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.
On Thursday, Vice President Harris met with Yoon and toured the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas in a visit meant to reassure Seoul of American military support.
"I cannot state enough that the commitment of the United States to the defense of the Republic of Korea is ironclad," she said. "This includes our extended deterrence commitment, which is supported by the full range of U.S. military capabilities."
The Republic of Korea is the official name of South Korea.
Earlier this week, the Ronald Reagan participated in joint drills with the South Korean navy, exercises that North Korea slammed as "an extremely dangerous act" that could lead to the "brink of war."