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US offered to deploy stealth destroyer in S. Korea: Seoul

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Published : 2017-02-06 16:49
Updated : 2017-02-06 18:33

The US has proposed deploying its largest stealthy destroyer in South Korea as the allies are exploring ways to better deter North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile threats, Seoul’s Defense Ministry said Monday.

During a meeting with South Korean lawmakers last month in Hawaii, Adm. Harry Harris, commander of the US Pacific Command, floated the idea of the USS Zumwalt being stationed at Jeju Island or Jinhae, homes to South Korea‘s naval bases on the southern tip of the peninsula, ministry spokesperson Moon Sang-gyun said at a press briefing. 

Moon said that the proposal came as a response to the lawmakers’ request for a permanent stationing of US strategic assets to help counter threats from North Korea, which claims to have entered the “final phase” of developing a ballistic missile capable of reaching the US mainland. But the ministry has not yet received an official offer, he added.

USS Zumwalt (Yonhap)
“A deployment of strategic assets is something that we can certainly consider as a deterrence against North Korea’s nuclear and military threats,” the spokesperson said. 

“If the US officially makes a suggestion, we will take a review ... as there are issues regarding the Zumwalt’s stationing and operation time frame.”

Rep. Kim Young-woo of the Bareun Party who chairs the parliamentary defense committee said he did not take part in the meeting, but heard from other panel members that Harris’ remarks were seen as impromptu. 

“It wasn‘t any formal, prearranged proposal, but seemed more impromptu,” he told The Korea Herald. “But given recent requests from Seoul, you could take it as a sign that the US will respond to North Korea’s nuclear program more actively going forward.” 

Seoul has since last year been calling for US strategic assets to be stationed permanently here. Gen. Lee Sun-jin, chairman of South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, reiterated the need during his phone call with his US counterpart, Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford. 

Commissioned in October, the Zumwalt is armed with stealth capabilities and state-of-the-art anti-submarine and other weapons, including SM-6 ship-to-air missiles and the Tomahawk long-range cruise missiles.

But the outlook appears slim for the destroyer’s actual dispatch, especially under the Donald Trump administration.

Washington has been skeptical of Seoul’s request in the face of financial woes and operational constraints. The Zumwalt is the US Navy‘s most expensive destroyer, costing at least $4.4 billion, yet it already experienced a breakdown in late November as well as engineering and propulsion problems. 

During his visit to Seoul last Friday, Defense Minister Han Min-koo and US Defense Secretary James Mattis pledged to take steps to enhance the US extended deterrence against North Korea. 

As part of boost its deterrence, Washington is expected to send the B-1B strategic bomber and Nimitz-class supercarrier USS Carl Vinson Strike Group here for the Key Resolve military exercise next month.

By Yeo Jun-suk (jasonyeo@heraldcorp.com)