On Saturday, F-18 Super Hornet jet fighters were deployed from Washington’s largest US warship in Asia – USS ‘Ronald Reagan’ – in what was described as a “routine” exercise.
The drills indictate how tensions have escalated on the Korean peninsula amid fears of a nuclear war breaking out.
Rear Admiral Marc Dalton, commander of the Reagan’s strike group, said that while Pyongyang’s missile tests and nuclear program was a “growing and concerning danger”, his task force was ready if North Korea resort to military action.
He said: “As a forward deployed force. . . we are already where we need to be to execute our missions all the time.”
The 100,000-ton Reagan has in recent months staged drills with allied Australia ships.
The US has also conducted military exercises with its regional allies South Korea and Japan to demonstrate strength to North Korea which has carried out a series of missile and nuclear tests.
But China, which claims much of the disputed South China Sea, has long objected to American military presence off its coast – even in areas Washington insists are free to international passage.
Officers aboard Japanese-based Reagan described frequent close quarter surveillance from the ships of China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy in international waters.
However Rear Admiral Dalton reported no trouble with the Chinese during the drill on Saturday, adding that “we see them on a regular basis”.
The drill comes as Washington warned Pyongyang to cease its nuclear armament and to instead open constructive talks with US President Donald Trump.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Kim Jong-un’s missile launches and nuclear tests have led to chaos in East Asia.
He said in Beijing: “I think the whole situation is a bit overheated right now. I think everyone would like for it to calm down.
“Obviously it would help if North Korea would stop firing off missiles, that would calm things down a lot.”
But the US State Department warned a peaceful ending to the escalating crisis did not appear forthcoming.
A spokeswoman said: “North Korean officials have shown no indication that they are interested in or are ready for talks regarding denuclearization.”
In September, the United Nations General Assembly voted unanimously for a fresh round of sanctions to be imposed on the regime.
Pyongyang branded the penalties “a brutal criminal act” by the US, adding that the sanctions were a “foolish dream” to stop its military.
North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency issued a statement saying: “The colossal amount of damage caused by these sanctions to the development of our state and the people’s livelihood is beyond anyone’s calculation.
“It is a foolish dream to hope that the sanctions could work on the DPRK.
“The sanctions have failed to stop it from becoming a full-fledged nuclear weapons state and making rapid progress in the building of an economic power for more than half a century.”