Last week, North Korea conducted one of its most provocative weapons demonstrations in years by flight-testing for the first time an intercontinental ballistic missile powered by solid fuel. It is considered a more mobile, harder-to-detect weapon and could directly target the continental United States.
South Korea's navy said Monday's three-way drills took place in international waters off the country's eastern coast and focused on mastering procedures for detecting, tracking and sharing information on incoming North Korean ballistic missiles. The one-day naval exercise involved an Aegis destroyer from each country.
The United States and South Korea also launched separate bilateral drills on Monday involving some 110 warplanes, including advanced F-35 fighter jets, that will continue through April 28.
The two sets of exercises could trigger a belligerent response from North Korea, which views the United States' military drills with its Asian allies as invasion rehearsals. North Korea has used such drills as a pretext to accelerate its own weapons development, creating a tit-for-tat cycle that has raised tensions in recent months.
Security Council resolutions ban North Korea from engaging in any ballistic activities. But the council has failed to impose new sanctions on North Korea despite its series of ballistic missile tests since early last year because of the opposition of China and Russia, which are both veto-wielding members.
North Korea's unprecedented run of weapons tests has so far involved more than 100 missiles of various ranges fired into the sea since the start of 2022 as it attempts to build a nuclear arsenal that could threaten its rival neighbors and the United States.
Experts say Kim wants to pressure the United States into accepting North Korea as a legitimate nuclear power and hopes to negotiate an easing of sanctions from a position of strength.
The United States and South Korea conducted their biggest field exercises in years in March and have also held separate naval and aerial drills involving a U.S. aircraft carrier battle group and nuclear-capable B-52 bombers.