TOKYO Japan's navy plans joint drills with the U.S. Navy's Carl Vinson carrier strike group as it steams towards the Korean peninsula in a display of military power aimed at deterring the North Korean regime from further missile tests, two sources said.
The Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force (MSDF) may conduct helicopter landings on each other's ships, as well as communication drills, as the USS Carl Vinson and its escort ships pass through waters close to Japanese territory, the sources said.
"Japan wants to dispatch several destroyers as the Carl Vinson enters the East China Sea," said one of the sources.
One the people who spoke to Reuters has direct knowledge of the plan, while the other has been briefed on the exercises.
MSDF officials did not respond immediately when asked to comment.
The display of U.S.-Japan naval power close to China could upset Beijing, which is locked in a territorial dispute with Tokyo in the region over uninhabited islets close to Taiwan.
The show of naval force by Tokyo comes as concern grows in Japan over the rapid pace of North Korea's ballistic missile development and U.S. President Donald Trump's threat of unilateral action to solve the North Korean problem.
North Korean state media warned on Tuesday of a nuclear attack on the United States at any sign of American aggression.
Trump, who has urged China to do more to rein in its impoverished ally and neighbour, said on Twitter that North Korea was "looking for trouble" and the United States would "solve the problem" with or without Beijing's help.
South Korea's acting president, Hwang Kyo-ahn, has warned of "greater provocations" by North Korea and ordered the military to intensify monitoring and ensure close communication with Washington.
Tension has escalated sharply on the Korean peninsula amid concerns that reclusive North Korea may soon conduct a sixth nuclear test.
North Korea fired a liquid-fuelled Scud missile this month, the latest in a series of tests that have displayed the Pyongyang regime's ability to launch attacks and use hard-to-detect solid-fuel rockets and tracked launch vehicles.
North Korean officials, including leader Kim Jong Un, have indicated an intercontinental ballistic missile test or something similar could be coming, possibly as soon as Saturday, the 105th birthday of North Korea's founding president.
North Korea remains technically at war with the United States and its ally South Korea after the 1950-1953 Korean conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. It regularly threatens to destroy both countries.
The Carl Vinson strike group, which cancelled a planned visit to Australia, is sailing from Singapore. The 100,000 ton Nimitz-class vessel is powered by two nuclear reactors and carriers almost 100 aircraft.
Under Third Fleet command, it has been patrolling Asia for several months as the Seventh Fleet's forward-deployed carrier in Yokosuka, Japan, undergoes scheduled maintenance.
Japan's navy, the second largest in Asia after China, is made up mostly of escort destroyers, but includes four large helicopter carriers.
(Reporting by Nobuhiro Kubo; writing by Tim Kelly; Editing by Michael Perry)