US cautious about dual-supercarrier operations near Korea

By Catherine Chung
  • Published : Aug 10, 2017 - 15:10
  • Updated : Aug 10, 2017 - 15:10
Despite heightened military tensions on the Korean Peninsula, the US Navy has no plan yet to send another aircraft carrier here, informed sources said Thursday.

They were responding to local news reports that the United States seems to be pushing for rare dual-carrier operations near Korea this month against the North's repeated intercontinental ballistic missile launches and war threats.

The forward-deployed flattop, Ronald Reagan, has just returned to its home port in Yokosuka, Japan, from a three-month routine patrol.

USS Ronald Reagan (Yonhap)

USS Carl Vinson (Yonhap)

"There's no plan for the deployment of another aircraft carrier in the vicinity of the Korean Peninsula this month," a defense source said, dismissing the reports that the US is expected to send the USS Carl Vinson, homeported in San Diego, to the region in August.

Another source said it's "not an easy decision" to transfer such a carrier with thousands of crew members and dozens of warplanes on board, although the USS Nimitz can be a more realistic alternative for brief regional deployment if needed.

The US has 11 supercarriers in active service to cover the global theaters and just nine of them are operational as the two others are going through regular maintenance, the source pointed out.

Observers raise the possibility that the US will instead dispatch other "strategic assets" here like a nuclear-powered submarine on the occasion of the allies' major annual combined drills to open later this month.

The Ulchi-Freedom Guardian is scheduled to start on Aug. 21 for a two-week run, according to the sources.

The US Forces Korea is still considering whether or how to announce the plan for the exercise, largely based on a computer simulation called a war game.

One dilemma is the lack of official communication channel with the North to notify it of the training schedule in advance.

"As a matter of routine, we do not discuss the details regarding future operations. We have a longstanding and ironclad alliance with our ROK Navy partners," said Lt. Tabitha Klingensmith, a public affairs officer at the US Naval Forces Korea. "Both navies routinely share information to ensure the continued security of the ROK. North Korea is a volatile and dangerous threat, and we will continue to work openly with our ROK partners to counter any threat presented."

Earlier Thursday, North Korea's military confirmed its plan to fire four Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missiles in the waters near Guam, which hosts some US strategic bombers and nuclear subs.

The US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis urged the North to stop any action that would "lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people."

He also noted that the State Department is "making every effort to resolve this global threat through diplomatic means," adding to criticism about confusing messages from the Trump administration officials on its strategy on Pyongyang. (Yonhap)