Darwin could become launch pad of nuclear war, North Korea warns

North Korea has warned a "suicidal" Australia that Darwin could become the launch pad of a nuclear war as it plays host to the "largest scale US military presence in Australia since the Second World War".

The threat, made in state-run media, came as tensions between the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the United States continue to intensify and 1250 US marines land in Australia.

The massive troop arrival follows more than two weeks of military muscle flexing from both nations, with North Korea staging its largest ever live-fire drill the most recent act of posturing.

Warnings about Darwin becoming the theatre of nuclear conflict were made in the Rodong Sinmun newspaper, the main organ of the ruling Worker's Party of North Korea.

North Korea warns Darwin could be a nuclear flashpoint as 1550 US Marines begin their deployment there. Source: AP

The newspaper claimed the US was "fanatically, crazily" using the Top End port city "to optimise its nuclear war readiness".

"This is the largest scale US military presence in Australia after the Second World War," the newspaper wrote on Monday.

It also rebuked Foreign Minister Julie Bishop's calls made in the past week for North Korea to stop developing nuclear weapons and feed its people instead.

The paper said Ms Bishop was "blindly and zealously toeing the US line" as she "spouted a string of rubbish against the DPRK over its entirely just steps for self-defence".

Darwin is now host to the largest peacetime US military presence in Australia. Source: AAP

"It is entirely attributable to the nuclear threat escalated by the US and its anachronistic policy hostile to the DPRK that the situation on the Korean Peninsula is inching close to the brink of war in an evil cycle of increasing tensions," it wrote.

"If Australia persists in following the US moves to isolate and stifle the DPRK and remains a shock brigade of the US master, this will be a suicidal act of coming within the range of the nuclear strike of the strategic force of the DPRK."

The editorial came alongside the DPRK's firing exercise that coincided with the 85th anniversary of the founding of the North Korean people's army.

South Korea's Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a brief statement that the North Korean exercise was under way on Tuesday afternoon.

North Korea has issued more warnings to Australia and the US about a growing military presence in the region. Source: AP
US sub in South Korea. Source: EPA/US Navy

"Our military is closely monitoring the North Korean military's movement," the office said.

In Australia, marines began to arrive in the tropical north on Tuesday for a six-month deployment during which they will conduct exercises with Australian and visiting Chinese forces.

The 25-year annual deployment program started by former US President Barack Obama in 2011 is part of the "pivot" to Asia at a time of increased assertiveness by China.

"I think that the commitment that we've taken to put a task force here with a conversation to get larger over the years says that we do think this is an important region," said Marines' commander Lieutenant Colonel Brian Middleton after the first troops arrived in Darwin in the Northern Territory.

"Being close to Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean, the Indo-Pacific position has always been important."

North Korea has warned the US is on a course toward nuclear war. Source: AP

Middleton said the marines would conduct an "important exercise alongside our Chinese partners" and Australia.

The strength of this year's deployment at 1250 troops lags well behind the initial plan for the deployment to reach 2500 Marines this year, but it will see the largest US aircraft contingent to Australia in peacetime history.

Middleton said the 13 aircraft, including tilt-rotor Ospreys, Super Cobra helicopters and Huey helicopters, triple the four aircraft in past deployments, was a "tangible kind of sign of our commitment to the region and to this partnership".

Ohio-class guided-missile submarine USS Michigan in South Korea. Source: EPA/US Navy

He said the decision to send the aircraft pre-dated the recent escalation in tensions over North Korea.

"Regardless, I think it is just a good move any time we can strengthen the long standing partnership and alliance between our two countries. We stand ready to fight and win the night always."

President Donald Trump has ordered the USS Carl Vinson carrier strike group to sail to near the Korean peninsula as a show of force aimed at deterring North Korea from conducting more missiles tests.

Pyongyang launched a failed missile test on Sunday and has warned Washington against taking military action against North Korea.

South Korean protesters stage a rally against US deployment of the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier and its battle group to the Korean Peninsula. Source: AP

The Australia-US-China military exercises are also aimed at Australia charting a course between its most important security ally the United States and its biggest trading partner China.

Australia has drawn rebukes from both superpowers as it tries to strike a balanced stance on the disputed South China Sea, with China criticizing Australian freedom-of-navigation flights in the area and a senior US soldier calling on Australia to do more there.

Newsbreak – April 26