The US Navy said in a statement on Thursday that the annual drill would “take place in waters surrounding Okinawa,” in the south of Japan, and was “designed to increase the defensive readiness and interoperability of Japanese and American forces through training in air and sea operations.”
The statement said the exercise would involve some 14,000 US troopers, and aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, as well as the guided-missile destroyers USS Stethem, USS Chafee, and USS Mustin, among others.
“The exercise follows more than a week of scenario-based training ashore,” the US Navy said.
The AFP reported that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met the commander of the US Pacific fleet, Harry Harris, as the Okinawa drill kicked off and called for “close coordination” between Tokyo and Washington to “enhance deterrence” against Pyongyang.
The southern island of Okinawa hosts more than half of the 47,000 US military personnel in Japan.
Washington and Tokyo agreed in 1996 to relocate the US Marines’ Futenma base, currently in a heavily-populated area, to a new site in Okinawa; however, many residents, whose prefecture was the only part of Japan to suffer a bloody land battle during World War II, want the base and the US military off their land altogether.
Protests against the US base have been going on for around nine years as Okinawans complain about crime and noise connected to the base.
The Thursday announcement was made just after the US conducted a joint naval drill with South Korea in the western Pacific earlier this week.
In a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, North Korea censured that drill and said the current situation was “the worst ever” around the Korean Peninsula.
Tensions between the US and North Korea have dramatically increased following a series of weapons tests by Pyongyang and an exchange of barbs between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
North Korea has been under a raft of crippling United Nations sanctions since 2006 over its nuclear tests as well as multiple rocket and missile launches.
Pyongyang has firmly defended its military program as a deterrent against the hostile policies of the US and its regional allies, including South Korea and Japan.