The US and South Korea kicked off a major joint naval exercise on Monday, 16 October, led by the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan off the coast of the Korean peninsula amid the ongoing tensions with North Korea. Among the forces practising exercises will be a special unit of the US forces undertaking "decapitation" operations.

Washington has deployed some of its most powerful strategic assets in the Korean peninsula as a strong show of force against Kim Jong-un regime. While Pyongyang has so far refused to scale down any of its nuclear or missile programmes despite growing international pressure, the US has also constantly stepped up its measures.

Under the Maritime Counter Special Operations Exercise (Mcsofex), the South Korean and American navies are expected to hold the maritime exercises until Friday, October. Drills will be held in both the East Sea (Sea of Japan) and in the Yellow Sea (West Sea).

Two Arleigh Burke-class destroyers – the USS Stethem (DDG-63) and the USS Mustin (DDG-89) – and submarines will also take part in the drills training South Korean forces in combat readiness. Sophisticated aircraft such as F-15K, FA-18 and A-10 fighter jets, and AH-64E Apache attack helicopters will also flex their muscle during the manoeuvres.

The allies are expected to keep a close watch on the movement of North Korean forces throughout the exercises since the reclusive nation is known to make provocative acts whenever there is a major military event. Pyongyang considers combined military exercises as a rehearsal by the US for a potential invasion.

The drills start just as when the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson insisted Washington would not close the diplomatic doors with North Korea "until the first bomb drops".