U.S. Bombers Drill with Japanese, South Korean Fighters After North Korean Missile Launches

March 20, 2023 7:16 PM
Japanese sailors aboard JS Atago (DDG-177) drill with US Navy destroyers. JMSDF Photo

U.S. forces conducted separate presence drills with South Korea and Japan over the last several days in response to multiple North Korean ballistic missile launches.

U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer bombers and F-16 and F-35A Lighting II fighters flew with Republic of Korea Air Force Sunday. In a separate drill, U.S. Air Force B-1Bs and Japan-based U.S. F-16 Falcons joined Japan Air Self-Defense Force F-15s.

Sunday’s drill with the ROKAF was part of the ongoing Freedom Shield, which began on March 13, Japanese officials said.

From Saturday to Sunday, destroyer USS Milius (DDG-69) and Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) destroyer JS Atago (DDG-177) conducted a ballistic missile defense exercise in the Sea of Japan.

The exercise was conducted to practice connecting networks between each Aegis warship and sharing targeting information for ballistic missile targets, according to the release.

“For the defense of Japan and the realization of a ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific,’ there can be no unilateral changes to the status quo by force,” reads the statement.

North Korea fired a Hwasong-17 Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) on Thursday, its second ICBM launch this year. State-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) described the ICBM launch as a response to the ongoing drills by the U.S. and South Korea. On Sunday, North Korea launched a single ballistic missile, with Japan’s Defense Ministry saying the missile was launched toward the east from near the west coast of North Korea and flew a distance of approximately 500 miles with a maximum altitude of about 30 miles before landing in the Sea of ​​Japan.

In the Philippines, amphibious assault ship USS America (LHA-6) docked in Manila on Sunday for a port visit, the Manila Bulletin reported. America drilled with amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD-8) in the East China Sea Thursday.

Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA)-122, assigned to the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) embarked with the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), held forward rearming and refueling operations with America. Fighter aircraft launched from Makin Island, landed on America to refuel and returned to Makin Island.

A U.S. Air Force 34th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron B-1B Lancer receives fuel from a 909th Air Refueling Squadron KC-135 Stratotanker during a flight over the Pacific Ocean, March 19, 2023. US Air Force Photo

“It adds another layer of operational effectiveness when assets from multiple ARGs, MEUs or ships are able to team up to conduct operations,” said Rear. Adm. Derek Trinque, commander, Task Force 76/3 in a statement.
“Flexing our ability to conduct FARS operations provides a greater operating radius of all our aircraft.”

The Marine F-35s joined up with EA-18G Growlers from Navy Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 135, assigned to Carrier Air Wing (CVW) – 5, and trained with cruiser USS Shiloh (CG-67) and destroyer USS Chung-Hoon (DDG-93). The Makin Island ARG, which along with Makin Island, includes amphibious transport docks USS John P. Murtha (LPD-26) and USS Anchorage (LPD-23), completed multinational Exercise Cobra Gold 23 in Thailand on March 10. The America ARG, which includes America, amphibious transport dock USS Green Bay (LPD-20) and dock landing ship USS Ashland (LSD-48), completed the bilateral U.S.- Japan Iron Fist 23 exercise in Japan on March 12.

On Friday, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) frigate CNS Binzhou (515) was sighted sailing eastwards in an area 100 miles west of Amami Oshima island.

The PLAN frigate subsequently sailed northeast through the waters between Amami Oshima and the uninhabited volcanic island of Yokoate-jima and entered the Pacific Ocean. Japanese officials said that destroyer escort JS Jintsu (DE-230), minesweeper JS Shishijima (MSC-691) along with JMSDF P-1 Maritime Patrol Aircrafts (MPA) of Fleet Air Wing 1 based at JMSDF Kanoya Air Base, Kyushu and Fleet Air Wing 4 based at Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Honshu, monitored the PLAN frigate.

On Saturday in Singapore, French amphibious assault ship FS Dixmude (L9015) and frigate FS La Fayette (F710), which form the Mission Jeanne D’Arc 2023 deployment arrived at Changi Naval Base for a port visit, having concluded the French-led multinational exercise La Perouse in the Indian Ocean on March 14.

Dzirhan Mahadzir

Dzirhan Mahadzir

Dzirhan Mahadzir is a freelance defense journalist and analyst based in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia. Among the publications he has written for and currently writes for since 1998 includes Defence Review Asia, Jane’s Defence Weekly, Navy International, International Defence Review, Asian Defence Journal, Defence Helicopter, Asian Military Review and the Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter.

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