One month ago, when we first discussed that in addition to the CVN-70 Carl Vinson aircraft carrier group, the US was deploying two more carriers toward the Korean peninsula, some took the Yonhap-sourced report skeptically: after all, what’s the incremental symbolic impact of having three, or even two aircraft carriers next to North Korea when just one would more than suffice. Then, two weeks ago, the report was proven half right when US officials announced that in addition to the first US carrier already on location, the US Navy is moving the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier to the Korean Peninsula, where it would conduct dual-carrier training exercises with the USS Carl Vinson.
Aircraft carrier CVN-76 Ronald Reagan
After completing its maintenance period in Yokosuka, Japan, the USS Ronald Reagan departed for the Korean Peninsula on Tuesday, according to the Navy. “Coming out of a long in-port maintenance period we have to ensure that Ronald Reagan and the remainder of the strike group are integrated properly as we move forward,” Rear Adm. Charles Williams said in a press release. Once it arrives in the region, the carrier will conduct a variety of training exercises but primarily focus on certifying its ability to safely launch and recover aircraft, the service said. In other words, training for combat missions involved the North Korean capital.
We concluded our report from mid-May by saying that the US Navy may soon “further deploy the CVN-68 Nimitz, which was the third carrier reported to be eventually making its way toward Korea.”
We didn’t have long to wait, because on Friday the Kitsap Sun confirmed what we reported initially over a month ago, namely that the USS Nimitz will depart Naval Base Kitsap-Bremerton on Thursday on its first deployment since 2013. Official details of the deployment were hazy, with spokeswoman Theresa Donnelly saying that The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier is expected to be in the western Pacific for six months with visits to the Middle East and Asia-Pacific, “though plans could change in response to world events.”
However, a subsequent report from VOAnews confirms that the ultimate destination is none other than the country the US will almost certainly attack next, North Korea:
The United States is sending a third aircraft carrier strike force to the western Pacific region in an apparent warning to North Korea to deter its ballistic missile and nuclear programs, two sources have told VOA. The USS Nimitz, one of the world’s largest warships, will join two other supercarriers, the USS Carl Vinson and the USS Ronald Reagan, in the western Pacific.
The Nimitz will lead Carrier Strike Group 11, which includes guided-missile destroyers USS Shoup and USS Kidd from Naval Station Everett, guided-missile destroyers USS Howard and USS Pinckney and guided-missile cruiser USS Princeton from San Diego, and a conglomeration of aircraft squadrons that comprise Carrier Air Wing 11, including Naval Air Station Whidbey Island-based Gray Wolves of Electronic Attack Squadron 142.
After returning from its last deployment, the Nimitz underwent a 20-month maintenance and modernization period at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard that was completed in October. It has spent most of the past seven months at sea undergoing training and inspections in preparation for deployment. Now the ship and crew are ready to go, said commanding officer Capt. Kevin Lenox.
“I am so incredibly proud of the entire Nimitz team and the terrific coordination and support across the entire strike group, especially in such a condensed training cycle,” he said in a news release. “The crew stepped up to the plate, and I’m confident we’re ready to meet whatever challenges lie ahead on our upcoming deployment.”
While it is rare for the U.S. military to deploy two carriers in the same region at the same time, it is almost unheard of to have three aircraft carriers in close proximity to each other absent current or imminent military action. Which may be the case soon: as VOA notes, North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile threat is seen as a major security challenge for Trump, who has vowed to prevent the country from being able to strike the U.S. with a nuclear missile.
Sitting alongside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Trump said on Friday prior to the start of the G-7 meeting in Sicily that world leaders would have a “particular focus on the North Korea problem.” The White House issued a statement on Friday which said the two leaders have agreed to “enhance sanctions on North Korea” in an attempt to prevent the further development of North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs.
Meanwhile, as reported on Friday, the U.S. military will test a system to shoot down an ICBM for the first time next week. It is intended to simulate a North Korean ICBM aimed at the U.S. The Missile Defense Agency said it will test an existing missile defense system on Tuesday to try to intercept an ICBM. The Pentagon has used the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system to intercept other types of missiles, but never an ICBM. The GMD has been inconsistent, succeeding in nine of 17 attempts against missiles without intercontinental range capability since 1999.
So, perhaps as a contingency plan, the US will soon have not one, not two, but three aircraft carriers in the proximity of the Korean peninsula “just in case.” The trip from Naval Station Everett is expected to take several weeks. Meanwhile, here is the latest deployment of US naval forces around the globe as of May 25, courtesy of Stratfor.