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A flight deck view of war games in the Yellow Sea

By Stan Grant, CNN
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Onboard the USS George Washington
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • USS George Washington taking part in long planned defensive drills in the Yellow Sea
  • Exercises have taken on greater significance since North Korea's attack on South Korean island
  • Six South Korean warships have joined the U.S. in these drills
  • North Korea calls drills a pretext for war, warns against any incursion into it's territory

(CNN) -- Only one percent of people in the world have done what we are about to do: be "tailhooked" on a plane landing at top speed aboard an aircraft carrier in open sea.

Cameraman, Brad Olson, and I are kitted up and ready to go; a head crushing helmet to drown out the ear-splitting noise.

CNN has been invited onto the USS George Washington in the volatile Yellow Sea. An hours flying time and we are brought to a shuddering halt; thrust forward as the plane goes from 150 miles an hour to a dead stop in just two seconds!

On board: a flurry of activity. Six thousand troops work around the clock keeping the carrier group on alert and the jet fighters in the sky. One after one the jets come in to land; a deafening noise that sends a shudder through my whole body.

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The ship is more than 1,000 feet long and weighs 100,000 tons. The carrier is 18 years old, they usually last 50 years, so it has many more voyages ahead.

This one though is one of its more crucial. These exercises have been long planned. Defensive drills and formations mainly: no live fire.

But they have taken on greater significance since North Korea's attack last week on the South's Yeonpyeong Island: killing two military personnel and two civilians; forcing residents to flee.

The man in charge of the whole exercise, Commander of the George Washington Strike Group, Admiral Dan Cloyd, says this stands as a deterrent to any future aggression.

"We're here to demonstrate our commitment to the Republic of Korea and to demonstrate our collective deterrence to North Korea and their provocations. This helps build our readiness with Republic of Korea forces."

Six South Korean warships have joined the U.S. in these drills.

George Washington Captain David A. Lausman says these exercises underline just how vital is their alliance.

"We're very happy to be working with the Republic of Korea navy, an alliance that dates back decades -- almost my entire career. I enjoy working with them any chance I get," he says.

But North Korea has declared these drills a pretext for war: warning any incursion into the North's territory will spark a "merciless military confrontation."

However, the exercises are at least 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the disputed border.

Inside the ship, though, radars keep a close eye on Pyongyang.

The four-day sea and air drills are now drawing to a close.

At the same time, diplomacy is being stepped up to try to calm the waters off the Korean coast.

Envoys from the U.S., Japan and South Korea will meet in December to discuss the North.

China is holding talks in Beijing with an official from its close ally: Pyongyang.

On the Yellow Sea, we have seen a display of what the military can do, if needed; if the talks fail.

And we are presented with a special certificate, having joined a select club to have landed at full speed on the carrier. We are strapped in ready to be catapulted off the ship: braced for another ride of our lives.

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