Seoul, South Korea.  The United States, South Korea and Japan held a joint naval exercise Monday aimed at countering missile threats from North Korean submarines, Seoul’s defense ministry said.

 

The exercises began off South Korea’s southern coast near Japan, featuring multiple naval destroyers and helicopters used in anti-submarine warfare, the ministry said.

 

North Korea is believed engaged in a program to develop long range missiles capable of hitting the US mainland with nuclear warheads, and has so far staged five nuclear tests, two of them last year.

 

The exercises involve more than 800 troops are taking place after US President Donald Trump warned Sunday that the United States is prepared to act unilaterally to deal with North Korea’s nuclear program if China proves unable to help.

 

A nuclear-capable submarine launched ballistic missile system would take the North’s threat to a new level, allowing deployment far beyond the Korean peninsula and a “second-strike” capability in the event of an attack on its army bases.

 

Tensions have escalated in the region following a series of missile launches by North Korean submarines in recent months and reports suggesting North Korea may be preparing another atomic test.

 

In February the North simultaneously fired four ballistic missiles off its east coast, three of which fell provocatively close to Japan, in what it said was a drill for an attack on US bases in the neighbouring Asian country.

 

Last August North Korea successfully launched a SLBM 500 kilometres towards Japan, far exceeding previous submarine launched tests in what the North’s leader Kim Jong-Un hailed as their “greatest success.”

 

CIA analysts say that while North Korea has made fast progress in its SLBM system than originally expected, it is still years away from deployment. North Korea is barred under UN resolutions from the use of ballistic missile technology.

 

 

 

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