SEOUL – The United States is considering deployment of two aircraft carriers in waters around the Korean Peninsula by mid-August in response to North Korea’s latest provocations, South Korean media reported Wednesday.
Yonhap News Agency quoted an unidentified South Korean government official as saying the nuclear-powered carriers considered for deployment are the Ronald Reagan and Carl Vinson.
They were similarly deployed in the Sea of Japan between May and June amid heightened tensions following North Korean ballistic missile tests.
According to Yonhap’s report, Washington and Seoul had earlier considered deploying the carriers around the time of the start of the “Ulchi Freedom Guardian,” an annual joint military exercise scheduled to begin on Aug. 21.
But they are now thinking of moving forward the deployment schedule, considering North Korea’s two tests last month of an intercontinental ballistic missiles and the possibility it make carry out its sixth nuclear test sometime soon, the report says.
South Korean broadcaster KBS quoted a government official as saying North Korea could take issue with the combined exercise by staging another provocation then.
The official said it is unusual for U.S. strategic assets to be deployed for the Ulchi-Freedom Guardian as it is a command post exercise, mostly involving computer simulations.
Strategic assets refer to high-profile weapons systems, such as stealth bombers and aircraft carriers.
Last Saturday, Defense Minister Song Young Moo said the U.S. military would send strategic assets to South Korea in a stern response to North Korea’s firing the previous day of another ICBM.
The following day, two nuclear-capable B-1B bombers flew over South Korea in a show of force, with the U.S. Air Force saying it is ready to respond to any contingency on the peninsula “with rapid, lethal, and overwhelming force at a time and place of our choosing.”
Meanwhile, the commander of U.S. Forces Korea expressed confidence Wednesday that an advanced ballistic missile interceptor system recently deployed in Seongju, South Korea, will enhance the alliance’s defense against North Korean threats.
In a statement, Gen. Vincent Brooks noted that in a test of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system on Sunday, a THAAD interceptor fired from Alaska successfully intercepted an air-launched, medium-range ballistic missile over the Pacific Ocean.
“This most recent interception of a medium-range ballistic missile, like the previous one against an intermediate-range ballistic missile, adds to the confidence I have in the THAAD system deployed to Seongju to defeat the North Korean threats” against South Korea, the general said.
“I do not know why anyone would doubt that it is capable of doing what we intended for it to do by deploying it here to Korea,” he said.
In a related development, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said Tuesday that U.S. President Donald Trump had told him he was willing to go to war with North Korea if it presses forward with developing a nuclear-tipped ICBM capable of hitting the United States.
Speaking on NBC’s “Today Show,” Graham said military experts who say no good options exist to deal with North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats are “wrong.”
“There is a military option to destroy North Korea’s program and North Korea itself,” he said.
Acknowledging that allies South Korea and Japan would “be in the cross-hairs” of North Korea if war breaks out, Graham said Trump has “got to choose between homeland security and regional stability.”
“If there’s going to be a war to stop (North Korean leader Kim Jong Un), it will be over there. If thousands die, they’re going to die over there. They’re not going to die here. And (Trump) has told me that to my face,” he said.