Drizzle and strong winds greeted reporters as they stepped onto the flight deck of the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier Tuesday to cover the ongoing joint exercises by South Korea and the United States.
Ninety minutes of flight aboard a C-2A Greyhound cargo plane brought them from Osan Air Base, a U.S. installation near Seoul, to the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, nearly 500 kilometers away in seas east of the Korean Peninsula.
The deck crew was in full swing in one of the world's most hazardous and fulminous work environments, exchanging hand signals and assisting flight operations mainly by F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jets and E-2 Hawkeye early warning planes.
For about 30 minutes from 4:20 p.m., the aircraft took turns landing or taking off on different runways at a furious rate in limited space, generating thunderous sounds and fumes.
Before the demonstration, Rear Adm. James Kilby, commander of Carrier Strike Group 1, delivered a short briefing on the group's participation in the Foal Eagle exercise underway by Seoul and Washington.
"The importance of the exercise is to continue to build our alliance and our relationship and strengthen that working relationship and interoperability between our ships," Kilby told reporters.
The commander went on to say that the two navies will be doing a lot of exercises that they planned for last six months to work together "correctly" as they are working for "one purpose."
He didn't give a direct answer to the view that North Korea accepts the drills as a threat to its isolationist regime.
Instead, he said, "The purpose of this exercise is to reinforce our alliance with the South Korean Republic, so we're really looking forward to that piece and that's really what we focus on. It's a routine periodic exercise."
The strike group was deployed to waters off the Korean Peninsula as the centerpiece of the joint exercise. Two Korean ships, Munmu the Great and Jeonbuk, are part of the maneuvers, he said.
The allies kicked off their annual joint drills -- Key Resolve and Foal Eagle -- in March. The two-week Key Resolve started Monday, while Foal Eagle runs through the end of April.
Pyongyang has long denounced the exercises as rehearsals for an invasion despite Washington's assurance that they are defensive in nature.
The carrier group was deployed from San Diego on Jan. 5, transited the Pacific and operated in the vicinity of Guam for a short period of time. Then it operated in the South China Sea for several weeks before transiting to seas east of the Korean Peninsula, he explained.
The 6,500-sailor armada breaks down to two Arleigh Burke-class destroyers and a Ticonderoga-class cruiser, the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier and the Carrier Air Wing 2, which has 74 aircraft.
In May 2011, the body of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden was buried at sea from the deck of the Vinson in the north Arabian Sea.
The 35-year-old naval vessel will make a port call in Busan, about 450 kilometers southeast of Seoul, on Wednesday morning. The arrival demonstrates the U.S. intent of deterring North Korea amid tensions over the North's evolving missile and nuclear weapons programs.
North Korea conducted two nuclear tests and 24 missile launches last year. This year, it continued its provocations by firing five ballistic missiles -- one intermediate-range and four improved versions of Scud missiles -- into the East Sea.
The communist regime views its missile and nuclear weapons program as a deterrent against what it claims is Washington's hostile policy against it.
During the exercises, the U.S. also plans to deploy strategic bombers, stealth fighters and other strategic weapons, a move widely seen as flexing its military muscle against the North. (Yonhap)