The guided-missile cruiser USS Robert Smalls steams in the Philippine Sea, June 3, 2023.

The guided-missile cruiser USS Robert Smalls steams in the Philippine Sea, June 3, 2023. (Ryre Arciaga/U.S. Navy)

SEOUL, South Korea — Nine U.S. and South Korean navy vessels began three days of live-fire and antisubmarine exercises Monday in the Sea of Japan, or East Sea, according to the South Korean military.

The maritime warfare exercise answers North Korean threats, including the regime’s failed satellite launch on Aug. 24 and the unveiling of a new submarine on Sept. 6, the Ministry of National Defense said in a news release.

“These drills serve as momentum so that the [South Korea] and U.S. naval forces can effectively deter and respond to North Korea’s advancing nuclear and missile threats …,” South Korean Rear Adm. Kim Inho said in the release.

U.S. ships participating in the training include the guided-missile cruiser USS Robert Smalls and the guided-missile destroyer USS Shoup, according to the release. South Korean destroyers in the exercise include the ROKS Yulgok Yi I, which is equipped with the Aegis missile-defense system, and the ROKS Dae Jo-yeong.

Two unnamed South Korean submarines and two maritime patrol aircraft from both countries are also participating in the exercise, the release said.

A South Korean navy headquarters officer declined by phone Monday to identify the South Korean submarines and the remaining three vessels in the exercise, citing operational security concerns.

South Korean officials regularly speak to the media on the customary condition of anonymity.

North Korea failed to launch what it claimed was a spy satellite in August, the country’s second attempt since May. The rocket lost thrust during flight and fell into the Yellow Sea, according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency.

The communist regime also unveiled a new “tactical nuclear attack” submarine, one reportedly capable of carrying nuclear weapons, on Sept. 6, one of many projects North Korea is developing to boost its underwater arsenal, KCNA reported Sept. 8.

The diesel-powered submarine, a modified Cold War-era vessel, was obtained from China in the 1970s, according to Reuters news agency on Sept. 8. It quoted South Korean military sources saying the North may be exaggerating the sub’s capabilities.

North Korea has launched nine ballistic missiles from submarines since 2015, according to an online analysis from the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit security firm Nuclear Threat Initiative.

This week’s naval drill is the second this month. U.S., South Korean and Canadian warships trained together in the Yellow Sea on Sept. 14. The amphibious assault ship USS America, South Korean guided-missile frigate ROKS Seoul and Canadian frigate HMCS Vancouver conducted tactical maneuvers and helicopter operations “to deal with North Korea’s threats,” the Ministry of National Defense said in a news release on Sept. 15.

Stars and Stripes reporter Yoo Kyong Chang contributed to this report.

David Choi is based in South Korea and reports on the U.S. military and foreign policy. He served in the U.S. Army and California Army National Guard. He graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles.

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