PENTAGON - American and Japanese military forces have launched joint exercises amid tensions with North Korea over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
The 13th annual Iron Fist exercises kicked off Friday in the U.S. western state of California and will continue through February 12.
More than 500 U.S. Marines and sailors are partnering with about 350 members of the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force to train in fire support operations and amphibious assaults.
"This is realistic and challenging training in partnership with the Japanese to better prepare us and them for anything that might happen in the Pacific so that we are ready to respond," Second Lt. Tori Simenec, a spokesman for the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit in California, told VOA.
Exercise Iron Fist comes as tensions with North Korea have put Japan, South Korea and the United States on alert. North Korea tested an intercontinental ballistic missile in November that some experts believe is capable of hitting anywhere in the continental United States.
Earlier this month, U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un exchanged threats about the size, location and potency of their "nuclear buttons."
The U.S. and South Korea recently postponed joint military exercises until after the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics next month. U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis called the delay a "practical matter" and said exercises would resume after the March 9-18 Paralympic Games.
Simenec said there was no talk of postponing Iron Fist, which she stressed were not related to events happening in North Korea.
Iron Fist training will take place at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Naval Amphibious Base Coronado and Naval Auxilliary Landing Field San Clemente Island. The main training event will be a scenario-based amphibious assault launched from the USS Rushmore amphibious landing ship, in coordination with an inland helicopter assault.
This will be the last joint exercise before Japan establishes its Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade in March. The new Japanese unit is similar to the U.S. Marines and could be used to defend contested territories.