The United States and South Korea announced a series of joint naval exercises in the Pacific theater on Tuesday, designed to show force and resolve against a stubborn North Korea. The first of the exercises will begin Sunday and will include ships, aircraft, sailors, and airmen (for a total of about 8,000 personnel) from both the US and Republic of Korea navy and air force.
The display is a direct response to and a continuation of the crisis begun when the South Korean frigate Cheonan was sunk off the coast of the Korean Peninsula on March 26. An international investigation team concluded that the Cheonan was hit by a torpedo launched from a North Korean submarine, a charge North Korea and its ally, China, have denied.
The statement said that the exercises “are designed to send a clear message to North Korea that its aggressive behavior must stop.” They will occur in both the East and West Seas, known to Americans as Yellow Sea and the Sea of Japan.
The military presence is quite large, with over a hundred aircraft and 20 ships and submarines, including the American aircraft carrier the USS George Washington.
Admiral Robert F. Willard characterized the first exercise, code-named Invincible Spirit, as “a show of force intended to send a signal to North Korea with regard to what has occurred post-Cheonan and is intended also to signal the region the resolve of this alliance and our commitment to one another and the scope and scale of our ability to operate together.”
Willard said this was only the first (and not necessarily largest) in a series of demonstrations taking place over the coming months. Should North Korean behavior change, the exercises can be increased or decreased in intensity.
China has made its displeasure over these events known (EDIT: very well known), having just completed its own exercises in the area. This New York Times article has a good description of their reaction.