Geum Yi

S. Korea, U.S., Japan hold trilateral missile defense drills in East Sea amid N.K. threats

February 22, 2023

South Korea, the United States and Japan held a trilateral missile defense exercise in the international waters of the East Sea on Wednesday, Seoul’s military said, amid heightened tensions caused by North Korea’s recent missile launches.

The exercise took place in waters east of South Korea’s Ulleung Island, mobilizing three Aegis-equipped destroyers — the South’s Sejong the Great, the U.S.’ USS Barry and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force’s JS Atago — according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).

The exercise, which lasted for some five hours from 9 a.m., focused on practicing procedures to detect, track and intercept computer-simulated targets, and share related information, it said.

Of the three destroyers, only the U.S. vessel was involved in the interception segment, while the rest joined other parts of the drills, such as the detection of virtual targets, a Seoul official told reporters on condition of anonymity.

“Through the maritime missile defense exercise this time, the South, the U.S. and Japan strengthened security cooperation and further solidified their response systems,” the JCS said in a press release.

The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said the exercise enhances “the interoperability of our collective forces and demonstrates the strength of the trilateral relationship” with the South and Japan.

“This trilateral cooperation is reflective of our shared values and resolve against those who challenge regional stability,” it said in a press release.

The drills followed the North’s launch of a long-range ballistic missile last Saturday and of two short-range ballistic missiles on Monday.

Following Monday’s launches, the JCS said it will ensure a firm readiness posture based on security cooperation with Washington and Tokyo — a rare mention of Japan in its press message on a North Korean missile provocation.

The remarks signaled the South will push to improve security ties with Japan, which had soured amid historical and other feuds stemming largely from Tokyo’s 1910-45 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.

The three countries previously held trilateral missile defense drills in October last year.

On the same day, top Navy officers of the three countries gathered at the U.S. Seventh Fleet based in Yokosuka, Japan, to discuss cooperation to counter North Korean missile threats, according to the Navy here.

They are ROK (Republic of Korea) Fleet Commander Vice Adm. Kim Myung-soo, U.S. Seventh Fleet Commander Vice Adm. Karl Thomas and Japan’s Self-Defense Fleet Commander Vice Adm. Akira Saito.

They condemned the North’s recent missile launches, and discussed ways to hold three-way training against North Korean missile provocations and strengthen their sharing of information on maritime operations, the Navy said.