US Warships Head To Yellow Sea For Military Drills

The USS George Washington sailed toward volatile waters off the Korean peninsula Wednesday for planned military exercises with South Korea in a show of force designed to deter a further escalation of hostilities with North Korea.

The exercises were billed as defensive in nature and were a more measured response than the retaliation initially urged by South Korea after North Korea's shelling of a South Korean island Tuesday, the most serious act of hostility since the end of the Korean war.

""It is a long-planned exercise,"" said Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.

""That said, it is meant to send a very strong signal of deterrence and also work with our very close allies in South Korea,"" Mullen said on CNN's ""Fareed Zakaria GPS."" ""We're very focused on restraint --- not letting this thing get out of control. The South Koreans so far have responded that way. Nobody wants this thing to turn into a conflict.""

The shelling of Yeonpyeong Island killed four people -- including two civilians -- and left an entire region fearful of an all-out war.The U.S. military said the military drills demonstrate the strength of Washington's alliance with Seoul and ""our commitment to regional stability through deterrence.""

""The policy problem is you want to come up with a response that is strong enough to deter the North Koreans from doing this again, but again, you don't want to do something so strong that you start a war,"" said Victor Cha, a Korea expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies."