For the first time in a decade, three U.S. Navy carriers are in the same place at the same time for a series of exercises in the Western Pacific. The USS Ronald Reagan, USS Nimitz and USS Theodore Roosevelt are putting on a rare display of sea and air power as President Donald Trump conducts a diplomatic tour of Asian countries.
The four-day drill began Sunday, and it gives the three carrier strike groups an unusual opportunity to train together as an integrated unit alongside allied South Korean and Japanese forces. This is the first time that three carrier strike groups have operated together in the Western Pacific since exercises Valiant Shield 2006 and 2007 off the coast of Guam.
"It is a rare opportunity to train with two aircraft carriers together, and even rarer to be able to train with three," said U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander, Adm. Scott Swift. "Multiple carrier strike force operations are very complex, and this exercise in the Western Pacific is a strong testament to the U.S. Pacific Fleet's unique ability and ironclad commitment to the continued security and stability of the region."
The combined strike force is conducting sea surveillance, UNREPS, air defense drills and air combat training and close-in coordinated maneuvers, among other operations. Diplomatically, it was widely perceived as a message to North Korea; Pyongyang regularly threatens to attack the United States, and intelligence analysts warn that it is near to developing missile-mountable nuclear warheads.
President Trump appeared to confirm that the carriers' presence was intended to send a warning to the North orean leadership. "We sent three of the largest aircraft carriers in the world [to the Korean Peninsula] and a nuclear submarine is also positioned," he said during a visit to South Korea last week.
North Korean news outlets described the carriers' presence as a provocation, and officials in Pyongyang told CNN that they are concerned that Trump intends to start a conflict. "Nobody knows when and how the 'war maniac' Trump will ignite the 'wick of war,'" officials told CNN's Will Ripley.