The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan sails in the Philippine Sea, Oct. 4, 2023.

The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan sails in the Philippine Sea, Oct. 4, 2023. (Caroline Lui/U.S. Navy)

CAMP HUMPHREYS, South Korea — A U.S. carrier strike group began drills in maritime interdiction tactics with warships from South Korea and Japan this week, the first such exercise by the three navies in seven years, according to the South Korean Ministry of National Defense.

The Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group, led by the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, took part in the two-day exercise starting Monday in international waters near South Korea’s Jeju Island, the ministry said in a news release Tuesday.

The Ronald Reagan was joined by the guided-missile cruisers USS Antietam and USS Robert Smalls and the guided-missile destroyer USS Shoup, according to the ministry.

The training also included ROKS Yulgok Yi I, a South Korean destroyer equipped with the Aegis missile-defense system, and the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer JS Hyuga, the release said.

The warships conducted maritime interdiction drills — the first such training between the three countries since 2016 — in response to sea-based threats from North Korea, according to the ministry.

Maritime interdiction means stopping, boarding and searching a vessel at sea suspected of prohibited conduct, such as breaking an embargo or supporting terrorism. It may also mean seizing the vessel or the cargo and arresting those on board or any combination of the three, according to the NATO Maritime Interdiction Operational Training Center.

The three navies also conducted anti-piracy drills, the ministry added.

Strong cooperation between the United States, South Korea and Japan is needed to address North Korea’s “evolving underwater threats and nuclear and missile threats,” and the three navies will continue to conduct trilateral drills in the future, South Korean navy Vice Adm. Kim Myung-soo said in the release.

The U.S. 7th Fleet’s commander, Vice Adm. Karl Thomas, said the three navies “are continuing to enhance trilateral exercises.”

“Our continued dialogue and development of interchangeability demonstrate our shared resolve to maintain the status quo of peace and defend against aggression,” he said Monday in a Navy news release.

The Ronald Reagan and its crew of roughly 5,000 sailors and Marines are scheduled to make a five-day port call at South Korea’s largest port, Busan, starting Thursday, according to a separate news release from the ministry Tuesday. The carrier last visited South Korea on Sept. 23, 2022.

The Ronald Reagan will be the second U.S. aircraft carrier to visit South Korea so far this year. On March 28, the USS Nimitz docked in Busan for the Ssangyong Exercise, two-week-long naval drills by the U.S. and South Korea.

This week’s training comes nearly two months after leaders from the U.S., South Korea and Japan agreed to expand their military cooperation amid North Korea’s weapons tests.

“We strongly condemn [North Korea’s] unprecedented number of ballistic missile launches, including multiple intercontinental ballistic missile launches and conventional military actions that pose a grave threat to peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and beyond,” President Joe Biden, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said in a joint statement following their summit at Camp David, Md., on Aug. 18.

Following the summit, the three militaries conducted several maritime drills, including missile-defense training against a simulated North Korean ballistic missile on Aug. 29.

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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