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US, Japan Naval Forces Annual Exercise Seen as Signal to Pyongyang

FILE - The USS Ronald Reagan anchors as a U.S. Aegis combat vessel passes at Busan port for joint military exercises in Busan, South Korea, March 22, 2007. The Reagan is now part of an annual bilateral training exercise with Japanese naval forces.

U.S. and Japanese naval forces have begun their annual bilateral training exercise, seen as a show of force amid North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile tests.

More than 14,000 U.S. personnel are participating in 10 days of drills, which will include the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, the guided-missile destroyers USS Stethem, USS Chafee and USS Mustin, and a maritime patrol and reconnaissance squadron.

The exercise in the waters surrounding Okinawa is designed to increase the defensive readiness and interoperability of Japanese and American forces through training in air and sea operations. It is meant to pressure North Korea and send a strong signal to Pyongyang of America's ability to rapidly mobilize a potent military force.

The drills begin as China announced Thursday a "dual suspension" proposal was the best option for handling North Korea. China and Russia have proposed that the United States and South Korea stop major military exercises in the area in exchange for North Korea halting its weapons programs.

U.S. President Donald Trump has rejected any "freeze for freeze" agreement.

"For forward deployed forces, exercises are a critical component to readiness. They do, in fact, assure our partners," Joint Staff Director Lieutenant General Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. told Pentagon reporters Thursday. "They also exercise a powerful deterring effect."

The exercise follows joint naval exercises in the Western Pacific involving U.S. and South Korean naval forces.

Three U.S. aircraft carriers also participated in separate exercises Sunday with Japan's largest warship.Tokyo dispatched one of its two large helicopter carriers and two escorts to participate in the drills in the Sea of Japan and East China Sea.

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    Carla Babb

    Carla is VOA's Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Korea.