The United States, Canada, India, Japan and South Korea are staging joint anti-submarine warfare drills amid talks between Japanese and South Korean leaders aimed at strengthening their alliance with Washington against threats from China and North Korea.
The Sea Dragon 23 exercises that started on Wednesday will culminate in more than 270 hours of in-flight training "ranging from tracking simulated targets to the final problem of tracking a U.S. Navy submarine," the U.S. 7th Fleet said in a news release.
Pilots and flight officers from all participating countries will also hold classroom training sessions to "build plans and discuss tactics incorporating the capabilities and equipment of their respective nations," The 7th Fleet said.
The drills are being held as a competition, with the country winning the most points taking home the "Dragon Belt."
The U.S. Navy is being represented by two P-8A Poseidon Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Aircraft, currently based in Guam. It did not say where the exercises would be held or how long they would last.
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, left, and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, right, speak at their bilateral meeting in Tokyo, Japan, on March 16, 2023. Japan and South Korea met to strengthen their alliance against threats from China and North Korea. (Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
With 50 to 70 ships and submarines, 150 aircraft and more than 27,000 sailors and marines ready to deploy at any given time, the 7th Fleet "routinely interacts and operates with Allies and partners in preserving a free and open Indo-Pacific region," it said.
That includes operating in the South China Sea, where it routinely draws Beijing's anger by sailing and flying near islands held and fortified by China, which claims the strategic waterway virtually in its entirety.
The exercises also come as China's navy is taking part in joint search and rescue exercises in the Gulf of Oman with Iran and Russia, three of the countries most at odds with the United States.
Other nations, as yet unidentified, are also taking part in the "Security Bond-2023" exercises, which China's Defense Ministry says will "help deepen practical cooperation between the participating countries’ navies ... and inject positive energy into regional peace and stability."
U.S. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said Wednesday that the White House was not concerned by the joint training exercise.
China’s dispute with Japan over tiny islands in the East China Sea has also heated up, with both sides accusing the other of violating their maritime territory.