U.S., South Korea, Japan hold missile defense drills in response to N. Korea

The United States, South Korea and Japan held a trilateral naval missile defense exercise on Monday, the South Korean navy announced, days after North Korea launched its newest intercontinental ballistic missile.

The drills were held in international waters between Korea and Japan and featured three destroyers equipped with the Aegis missile defense system: the USS Benfold, the South Korean ROKS Yulgok Yi and the Japanese JS Atago.

“We will strengthen security cooperation between South Korea, the U.S. and Japan against North Korea’s escalating nuclear and missile threats, such as North Korea’s recent series of ballistic missile provocations,” Capt. Kim Ki-young of the Yulgok Yi said in a navy press release.

The exercise focused on detecting and tracking a simulated ballistic missile trajectory and sharing information in real time, the release said.

The three countries held a senior-level defense dialogue last week in Washington and agreed to conduct regular anti-missile and anti-submarine exercises in the face of ongoing North Korean threats.

North Korea on Thursday test-fired its Hwasong-18, a new solid-fuel ICBM that analysts say could be more maneuverable and quicker to launch than liquid-fuel missiles, making it harder for missile defense systems to counter.

Meanwhile, South Korea and the United States also kicked off large-scale joint air drills on Monday, the South’s air force said in a press release.

The 12-day exercise, known as the Korea Flying Training drills, involves some 110 aircraft including South Korean F-35A, F-15K and KF-16 fighters and American F-16, F-35B and FA-18 jets.

Amid heightened tensions, North Korea has not responded to routine daily calls on an inter-Korean liaison channel for 11 days, Seoul’s Unification Ministry said Monday.

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