Written By: Fabrizio Napoli
Edited by Christopher Amrobo Enemuwe
Supervised by Ginevra Bertamini
On October 22, the Republic of Korea (ROK) and the United States (US) navies completed the anti-submarine exercise called ‘Silent Shark’ in the waters of Guam. Since 2007, Silent Shark has been conducted biennially. The live-training exercise involved the nuclear-powered fast attack submarine USS Topeka (SSN-754) and the diesel-electric submarine ROKS Jung Ji (SS-073), along with maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft from the US Navy’s Squadron 8 and the ROK’s Navy Squadron 611. The exercise aimed to increase naval interoperability between the US and South Korea, especially in submarine tracking and engagement and included several port visits to the US Naval Base Guam. In this regard, Cmdr. Kim Il-bae from the ROK’s navy reiterated Seoul’s commitment to deter maritime aggression and declared that Silent Shark had increased their ability to carry out joint Theatre Anti-Submarine Warfare operations (TASW) (Wolpert, 2023).
On the same day, the US and the ROK conducted their first trilateral aerial exercise with Japan. It took place in an area of the Korean peninsula where the ROK’s and Japan’s Air Defence Identification Zones overlap. It involved a nuclear-capable B-52 from the US Air Force as well as fighter jets from both other countries, namely two F-15Ks from the ROK Air Force and four F-2s from the Japan Air Self-Defence Force. As for Silent Shark, the ROK’s Navy revealed that the exercise had a strong deterrence component and aimed to prevent foreign incursions (Harpley, 2023).
Remarkably, in August 2023, the Heads of State and Government of the US, ROK, and Japan convened for a summit in Camp David, where they pledged to establish a shared real-time early warning system and consult expeditiously in response to regional security crises. The trilateral meeting came on the heels of competition with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). Underlying concerns include the expansion of the PRC’s and DPRK’s nuclear arsenals, changes to maritime borders, and alignment with the Russian Federation (Daalder, 2023).
Following the summit in Camp David, mutual visits between Russian, Chinese, and North Korean officials intensified. The three countries perceive the US pivot to the Indo-Pacific and reconciliation between Tokyo and Seoul as part of a strategy aimed at containing Beijing (Sharma, 2023). Against this background, in September 2023, the DPRK leader Kim Jong-un and Russian President Vladimir Putin met to discuss comprehensive cooperation in multiple spheres (Lee, 2023). According to ROK intelligence, Moscow proposed trilateral naval exercises that would mirror those of its counterparts (Kim, 2023).
Cdr. Wolpert, J. (2023, October 23). US, ROK Conduct Exercise Silent Shark. US Indo-Pacific Command. Retrieved from: https://www.pacom.mil/Media/News/News-Article-View/Article/3566321/us-rok-conduct-exercise-silent-shark/
Daalder, I. (2023, August 23). Deepening the new US-Japan-Korea trilateral partnership. Politico. Retrieved from: https://www.politico.eu/article/deepening-us-japan-korea-trilateral-partnership-camp-david-summit-china/
Harpley, U. L. (2023, October 23). US, S. Korea, Japan Hold First Ever Trilateral Air Exercise, with B-52 and Fighters. Air and Space Forces. Retrieved from: https://www.airandspaceforces.com/us-south-korea-japan-first-trilateral-air-exercise/
Kim, T. (2023, September 4). Seoul’s spy agency says Russia has likely proposed North Korea to join three-way drills with China. AP News. Retrieved from: https://apnews.com/article/north-korea-russia-military-cooperation-ukraine-china-55918dc4b8672a15ae103eb5fea2a930
Lee, J. (2023, October 24). N. Korean leader pushes for anti-US front expansion, courts China. Radio Free Asia. Retrieved from: https://www.rfa.org/english/news/korea/nkorea-courts-china-10242023234054.html
Sharma, A. (2023, October 6). The Growing China-North Korea-Russia Axis and South Korea’s Response. The Diplomat. Retrieved from: https://thediplomat.com/2023/10/the-growing-china-north-korea-russia-axis-and-south-koreas-response/