With multiple recent ballistic missile tests by the North Koreans adding to ongoing tensions between the reclusive state and its southern neighbors, South Korea and the United States have begun annual military drills intended to help prepare the nations for the possibility of war with Kim Jong Un’s regime – and the arrival of the American aircraft carrier strike group led by the USS Carl Vinson seems to have the North spooked a bit more than usual.

The Carl Vinson, a Nimitz Class, nuclear powered aircraft carrier began sea operations by launching a volley of F-18 fighter jets from its deck on Monday in a dramatic display of American firepower.  While such a display isn’t uncommon in this area of the world, events leading up to this exercise have drawn more attention to the annual training operation than normal – events like North Korea’s two nuclear tests and multiple missile launches since these exercises took place last year.

“While this is a routine deployment for the Carl Vinson strike group, really the centerpiece for us … is this exercise we’re doing with the ROK (Republic of Korea) navy called ‘Foal Eagle’,” Rear Admiral James W. Kilby, commander of the Carrier Strike Group 1, told reporters.

Of course, despite these exercises being relatively routine, it hasn’t stopped North Korean officials from overreacting via official statement, levying aggressive warnings at South Korea and the United States via their state news agency, KCNA.  According to the government’s official statement, the Carl Vinson’s arrival in the seas off of the Korean peninsula are a part of a “reckless scheme” by the allied nations to attack North Korea.

“If they infringe on the DPRK’s sovereignty and dignity even a bit, its army will launch merciless ultra-precision strikes from ground, air, sea and underwater,” the North’s state news agency KCNA said.

“On March 11 alone, many enemy carrier-based aircraft flew along a course near territorial air and waters of the DPRK to stage drills of dropping bombs and making surprise attacks on the ground targets of its army,” KCNA continued.

According to North Korean officials, last week’s ballistic missile test was a direct response to the threat posed by American and South Korean military exercises.  The test consisted of four missiles being fired into the Sea of Japan, with three landing within Japan’s exclusive economic zone.  Intelligence analysts believe these tests may have been a practice run intended to mirror launching missile strikes against American installations housed in Japan.

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These missile tests, combined with intelligence gathered on Kim Jong Un’s development of long-range missiles and successful nuclear tests have added not only to the tensions between nations in the region, but to a sense of urgency among nations like the United States that are increasingly beginning to see North Korea as a potential threat, instead of the laughing-stock that they once were.  While Kim Jong Un may be a master of making empty statements, one successful nuclear missile launch could change everything – and cost the lives of thousands, or even millions of people.

That level of risk is something President Trump has been said to be carefully considering, as the White House has repeatedly stated that nothing, not even armed incursion, is off the table when it comes to limiting the damage North Korea could impose on the world via its arsenal of missiles.

Last year, joint military exercises such as this saw over 300,000 South Koreans and 17,000 American soldiers participate, and South Korean officials have indicated that the current exercise is similar in scale.  This time, however, more American technology is seeing deployment, such as “Grey Eagle” attack drones that will now patrol the border between the two nations.

 

Image courtesy of the U.S. Navy