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Japan, U.S. hold missile defense drill in Sea of Japan

Japan and the United States held a joint exercise involving
their Aegis-equipped ships in the Sea of Japan on Tuesday, amid
heightened tension over North Korea.

The Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force had already conducted
an exercise involving its destroyers and the U.S. nuclear-powered
carrier Carl Vinson on Sunday and Monday in the Philippine Sea.

As the U.S. carrier is believed to be approaching waters near
the Korean Peninsula, the MSDF is considering holding another joint
drill in the Sea of Japan, according to a Japanese government source.
It is rare for the MSDF to hold an exercise with a U.S. carrier in
the waters.

The exercise on Tuesday, apparently to confirm readiness for
possible ballistic missile launches by North Korea, involved the MSDF
destroyer Chokai and U.S. guided-missile destroyer Fitzgerald,
according to the MSDF.

The Fitzgerald, which is part of the U.S. 7th Fleet and based at
the Yokosuka Naval Base in Kanagawa Prefecture, was apparently
already in the Sea of Japan monitoring North Korea prior to the
exercise. The Chokai belongs to the MSDF's Sasebo base in Nagasaki
Prefecture, southwestern Japan.

Noting that the U.S. Navy is also conducting a maritime exercise
with South Korea, the 7th Fleet said in a statement, "Both exercises
demonstrate a shared commitment to security and stability in
Northeast Asia as well as the U.S. Navy's inherent flexibility to
combine with allied naval forces in response to a broad range of
situations."

MSDF officials said the Japanese and U.S. destroyers practiced
sharing information on missile interception and other communications.

The drill did not include training related to Japanese forces'
guarding of U.S. naval vessels when the two countries are jointly
engaged in monitoring North Korean missile launches, a new role
allowed under Japanese security legislation that came into effect
last year.

North Korea on Tuesday marked the 85th anniversary of the
founding of its armed forces without conducting another nuclear test
or major missile launch, as feared. It did, however, carry out a
large-scale firing drill around the eastern port city of Wonsan,
according to South Korea's military. (April 25)