South Korean and U.S. forces have been carrying out naval drills in seas around the peninsula with a nuclear attack submarine as part of their annual exercise, military sources said Wednesday, in a show of power against North Korea’s threat of nuclear attack.
The two-month annual field training, called Foal Eagle, has been in full swing to test the combat readiness of the allies, amid high tension on the Korean Peninsula in light of a torrent of bellicose rhetoric by North Korea. It kicked off on March 1 and runs through April 30.
The U.S. nuclear attack submarine USS Cheyenne (SSN 773) has been carrying out anti-submarine drills since March 13 along the east and south coasts of the peninsula, according to military officials.
“Cheyenne is carrying out anti-submarine drills with South Korea’s Navy east and south of the peninsula,” a military source said, asking for anonymity. “Although it doesn’t carry nuclear missiles, it has long-range cruise missiles that attack ground targets from the sea.”
Although the U.S. navy has sent nuclear submarines in past drills, military equipment capable of delivering nuclear weapons mobilized in this year’s drill, such as the B-52, have drawn keen attention after Pyongyang threatened a pre-emptive nuclear strike against Seoul and Washington in the wake of U.N. sanctions over its recent nuclear test.
The South Korean Navy deployed an Aegis destroyer, corvettes and submarines as well as anti-submarine and maritime surveillance aircraft to take part in the maneuvers aimed at detecting submerged threats, officials noted.
The USS San Francisco (SSN-711), a 6,800-ton Los Angeles-class submarine, in early February participated in a highly publicized joint drill with the South Korean Navy, seen as attempts to send a strong message to the North, which was preparing for its third nuclear test.
North Korea on Wednesday condemned training flights by US B-52 bombers over the Korean Peninsula as an “unpardonable provocation” and threatened military action if they continued.
The Pentagon says at least one B-52 has flown over South Korea in recent weeks as part of the military exercises.
“It is an unpardonable provocation,” a North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.
“The U.S. is introducing a strategic nuclear strike means to the Korean Peninsula at a time when its situation is inching close to the brink of war,” the spokesman said.
Military tensions on the Korean Peninsula are at their highest level in years, with North Korea ― angered by U.N. sanctions imposed after its nuclear test last month ― threatening a second Korean War backed by nuclear weapons.
The foreign ministry said Pyongyang was closely watching the ongoing exercises and vowed a “strong military counteraction, should the strategic bomber make such a sortie to the peninsula again.”
Pentagon spokesman George Little said Monday that a B-52 from Andersen Air Force base in Guam flew over South Korea on March 8.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported that another B-52 sortie was carried out Tuesday.
B-52s have taken part in annual exercises on the peninsula before, but Little said the Pentagon wanted to underline their use this time given the heightened tensions.
(From news reports)