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US-Korean Exercise Focuses on Anti-Submarine Warfare, Air Defenses

Steve Herman | USS George Washington, Sea of Japan 26 July 2010

The largest joint military exercise by the United States and South Korea in years is underway in the Sea of Japan. These war games were called in response to North Korea's sinking of the South Korean navy ship, Cheonan, an incident that killed 46 sailors in March.

Throughout the day, on calm seas and under clear skies, F-18 Hornet fighter jets and other aircraft were catapulted from the flight deck of this nuclear-powered carrier.

About 200 aircraft are participating in the four-day drill, known as Invincible Spirit. Some took part in live fire exercises. For the first time, an exercise here also includes four of the U.S. Air Force's most advanced fighters, F-22 Raptors.

In the sea are 20 American and South Korean naval vessels, advancing no closer than 200-kilometers south of the maritime boundary with North Korea in the eastern sea.

In the Command Direction Center of the aircraft carrier, U.S. Navy Commander Peter Walczak says the exercise is similar to what routinely occurs on the carrier, except for the additional component of cross-training with South Korean forces. A key component in the drill is detecting enemy submarines and defending against them.

North Korea's threat to unleash a nuclear attack in response to the joint war games, Commander Walczak says, is not causing undue alarm for the U.S. 7th Fleet.

"The only extra precaution is that, maybe, were more observant to what is going on in the area. A little more sensitive to intel reports, what have you. The ship itself, the airplane flying, the schedule, it is pretty much what we do with standards operations. Our alert posture is not necessarily any higher than any other time during normal operations," he said.

The carrier's strike group is under the command of Rear Admiral Dan Cloyd. He calls the current exercise, "purely defensive in nature" and says there's no reason for North Korea to be provocative.

"Our intent is to improve defense capabilities in areas such as anti-submarine warfare, air defense and anti-surface warfare," Cloyd said. "Our intent is not to provoke reactions from any nation, be it North Korea, or any other here in the Western Pacific region."

North Korea denies responsibility for the sinking of the Cheonan in the Yellow Sea on March 26. The incident has escalated tension on the Korean peninsula, which, on Tuesday, marks the 57th anniversary of the armistice that halted the Korean War. The two sides have yet to sign a peace treaty.

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