The aircraft carriers USS Nimitz, USS Ronald Reagan, and USS Theodore Roosevelt are scheduled to begin exercises in the Western Pacific over the next few days, just as President Donald Trump arrives in South Korea.
The massive exercise will hopefully make a strong impression on the North Koreans and is guaranteed to infuriate them.
Reuters describes the exercise as a “rare show of force” and notes it is “the first time three U.S. carrier strike groups have exercised together in the region in a decade.” Guided-missile destroyers and submarines will be involved in the drill, along with a Japanese warship, the destroyer Inazuma.
Both U.S. and Japanese sources declined to specify exactly where or when the exercises would take place, and there was no indication President Trump plans to visit the carriers. The exercise has been hinted at in the past, but apparently was not officially confirmed until now.
USNI News adds that seven out of the eleven U.S. nuclear aircraft carriers are now at sea simultaneously, the first time this has happened in several years. USS Carl Vinson and USS John C. Stennis are in the Eastern Pacific, while USS Abraham Lincoln and USS Gerald R. Ford are in the Atlantic. The Ford is the newest U.S. carrier and is still undergoing tests and training ahead of scheduled regular deployment in the early 2020s.
As for the three carriers involved in the upcoming exercise, USNI News reports the Reagan has been operating in the Sea of Japan near the Korean peninsula, the Nimitz is on its way home after a Persian Gulf deployment against the Islamic State, and Roosevelt is on its way to replace Nimitz. Joint Chiefs chairman General Joseph Dunford insisted last week that their convergence is a “routine demonstration of our commitment to the region” and not “specifically targeting North Korea.”
CNN notes that the U.S. Navy has been “coy as to the purpose of the carriers’ presence in the region,” but President Trump, who is not often described as “coy,” said from Seoul that they were intended to demonstrate “great strength” to North Korea.
“We sent three of the largest aircraft carriers in the world, and a nuclear submarine is also positioned,” said Trump. CNN guesses the submarine is the USS Michigan, which carries 154 Tomahawk cruise missiles and made a port call in South Korea last month.
Trump declared “we hope to God we never have to use” the power of the United States military on the Korean peninsula, but added, “With that being said, I really believe it makes sense for North Korea to come to the table and make a deal that’s good for the people of North Korea.”
“I really believe it makes sense for North Korea to come to the table and make a deal that’s good for people of North Korea and people of the world,” Trump stressed at a press conference with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. “I do see certain movement, yes, but let’s see what happens.”
“Ultimately, it will all work out because it always works out. It has to work out,” Trump mused to U.S. and South Korean troops at Camp Humphreys, about 80 miles from the North Korean border.
“Beyond the capability to project military power at great range, their ability to project political and psychological power is arguably unmatched, and we are seeing that play out,” Tim Huxley of the International Institute for Strategic Studies told Reuters. “While in a war against China, U.S. carriers might be vulnerable, they wouldn’t be in any conflict against North Korea … and three U.S. carriers can deliver a tremendous amount of airpower.”
The North Koreans appear to be aware of the latter point. North Korean officials fumed to CNN that the carrier exercise could “ignite another Korean War.”
“Nobody knows when and how the war maniac Trump will ignite the wick of war,” these officials complained.
North Korea’s state-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper editorialized on Tuesday that “U.S. nuclear-powered carrier strike groups massed in the waters off the Korean peninsula” prove Pyongyang needs nuclear weapons to defend itself.
“The U.S. should not expect us to make any change. No matter what storm and stress and ordeals the army and people of the DPRK may face, they will pave a broad avenue to the independent development and prosperity, holding fast to the nuclear deterrent of justice,” the editorial declared.