Wed Apr 12, 2017 05:16AM
A US Navy strike group participates in a photo exercise with Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyers in the Philippine Sea, March 28, 2017. (Photo via AFP)
A US Navy strike group participates in a photo exercise with Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyers in the Philippine Sea, March 28, 2017. (Photo via AFP)

Japan plans a joint military drill with the US Navy strike group that has been heading toward North Korea, potentially escalating an already-tense situation in the region.

Sources told Reuters on Wednesday that the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force (MSDF) would be prepared to launch the drill as the nuclear-powered flagship aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson and its escort vessels passed through waters close to Japanese territory.

“Japan wants to dispatch several destroyers as the Carl Vinson enters the East China Sea,” one of the sources said. The two militaries may conduct helicopter landings on each other’s ships and carry out communication drills.

Apart from the USS Carl Vinson, the strike group also includes two destroyers, a cruiser, and submarines. The USS Carl Vinson is capable of carrying 90 fixed wing aircraft and helicopters. Its dispatch to the Korean Peninsula comes amid increased tensions with North Korea, whose rapidly developing missile and military nuclear programs have unnerved Washington.

While Japan has stakes in the row with North Korea, its plan to conduct the limited drill with the US strike group in the East China Sea seems more aimed at China, which is involved in a territorial dispute with Japan in the sea.

Meanwhile, Pyongyang has warned to attack US mainland with an atomic bomb if the US strike group conducts any aggression against North Korean soil.

“Our revolutionary strong army is keenly watching every move by enemy elements with our nuclear sight focused on the US invasionary bases not only in South Korea and the Pacific operation theater but also in the US mainland,” said a report on the official Rodong Sinmun newspaper on Tuesday.

Reacting on the same day, US President Donald Trump said in a tweet that Pyongyang was “looking for trouble.”

He also referred to the strike group and said, “We are sending an armada. Very powerful. We have submarines. Very powerful. Far more powerful than the aircraft carrier. That I can tell you.”

A single-seater F/A-18C Hornet fighter aircraft is seen on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson during a South Korea-US joint military exercise in seas east of the Korean Peninsula on March 14, 2017. (Photo via AFP)

North Korea has so far conducted five confirmed nuclear tests and numerous missile launches. It fired a ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan last week. 

The North faces international pressure, including an array of sanctions, to abandon its arms development and nuclear programs.

The US, which has military forces in South Korea, has also recently started the installation of an advanced missile system at an air base in the South, further stoking tensions with the North, as well as China.

The US has been calling on Beijing to help contain North Korea.