Ships from the U.S., Japan and Republic of Korea conducted a trilateral ballistic missile defense exercise in the Sea of Japan, Oct. 6.

Ships from the U.S., Japan and Republic of Korea conducted a trilateral ballistic missile defense exercise in the Sea of Japan, Oct. 6. U.S. Navy / Petty Officer 2nd Class Justin Stack

US Scrambles Warships in Response to North Korean Missiles

North Korea fired two more ballistic missiles Thursday as U.S. ships from USS Reagan carrier strike group conduct exercise with South Korea and Japan.

Warships with the USS Ronald Reagan carrier strike group conducted a ballistic missile defense exercise Thursday with the South Korean and Japanese navies in response to a recent North Korean missile launch. 

The exercise “demonstrates the strength” of the U.S. relationship with Japan and Korea, a relationship that is “resolute against those who challenge regional stability,” U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said in a statement Thursday.

North Korea on Tuesday launched a ballistic missile over Japan, the first time it has done so since 2017. Then, hours before the trilateral exercise was announced, North Korea launched two more ballistic missiles Thursday morning local time. The hermit kingdom has conducted a number of missile launches in the past several days, Reuters reported, and has conducted more than 20 weapons tests since January, according to the New York Times.

The U.S., South Korea, and Japan condemned the missile launches, Indo-PACOM said, adding that they violate United Nations Security Council mandates.

“We urge [North Korea] to immediately cease actions that violate U.N. Security Council resolutions, escalate military tensions, destabilize the region, and endanger peace and security,” their statement said. “We remain committed to peace and prosperity through the region in order to secure a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

North Korea is using the launches to test and adapt its missile program, Pentagon spokesman Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said on Thursday. 

“The issue here though is that these actions are provocative. They’re dangerous,” Ryder said. “North Korea has not committed to any type of constructive or strategic dialogue on these issues. And so, in so much as they’re testing these missiles, and the way that they’re doing it, it has the great potential for destabilizing the region…In the days ahead, we’ll continue to consult closely [with allies] in the event of potential future tests or other actions. I would hope that doesn’t occur. But if it does, we’ll be prepared.”

The USS Ronald Reagan recently had a port call in South Korea for the first time in almost four years and did another trilateral anti-submarine warfare exercise with South Korea and Japan on Sept. 30.

Thursday’s exercise involved the USS Chancellorsville guided-missile cruiser and the USS Benfold guided-missile destroyer from the Reagan carrier strike group, as well as two destroyers from Japan and one from South Korea.

The exercises that have been done in recent days are “focused on how we would defend ourselves and how we would deter, and they are not a threat at all to the region, unlike the provocative activities coming from North Korea,” Ryder said.

The Associated Press reported that the warships were located off the east coast of the Korean Peninsula, according to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. They also reported that the Reagan has moved to waters near the Korean peninsula. A U.S. 7th Fleet spokesperson would only say the carrier strike group is operating in the Sea of Japan, and the statement from Indo-PACOM did not provide the exact location of the exercise.  

On Tuesday, in response to the launch over Japan, U.S. Marine Corps fighter jets exercised with Japanese military jets over the Sea of Japan, and troops from U.S. Indo-Pacific Command also exercised with South Korean troops, Ryder said Tuesday. 

“These engagements were taken to showcase combined deterrence and dynamic strike capabilities,” Ryder told reporters at the time. “The U.S. remains committed to peace and prosperity throughout the region, in order to secure a free and open Indo-Pacific. Our commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea and Japan remains ironclad. And again, we call on [North Korea] to refrain from further unlawful and destabilizing acts.”

South Korea also tried but failed to launch its own ballistic missile during a live-fire drill with U.S. troops Wednesday, and no one was injured in the crash, Reuters reported.