A U.S. Navy destroyer on Sunday joined South Korean vessels in the latest show of force exercise following the North’s recent nuclear test, the service said.
The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Spruance (DDG 111) teamed with South Korean destroyers and submarines, as well as South Korean helicopters and American and South Korean P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft, in an operation off the east coast of the Korean peninsula, according to a statement from the Navy.
“This operation showcases the unwavering strength and resolve of the U.S. and ROK navies,” Rear Adm. Brad Cooper, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Korea and Task Force 78, said in the statement. “We work side-by-side with our ROK partners every day … and we will remain by their side to defend against North Korea’s unprovoked acts of aggression.”
Vice Adm. Lee, Ki-sik, commander of the Republic of Korea Fleet, added, “Our ROK-US alliance will counter the North Korean nuclear development and SLBM threats with determination.”
The exercise, which came less than two weeks after the U.S. Air Force flew B-1 Lancer bombers and F-16 Fighting Falcon jets over Osan Air Base about 50 miles southeast of Seoul, was designed to highlight the joint force’s ability to target North Korean surface, subsurface and ballistic missile threats.
The South doesn’t possess nuclear weapons and relies on the U.S. as a nuclear deterrent, according to Agence France Presse. While B-1 bombers were developed to carry nuclear bombs such as the B61, they no longer do so after a change of mission and modifications in the 1990s and now carry only conventional ordnance, an Air Force spokeswoman said.
The highly visible military exercises are a response to North Korea’s Sept. 9 nuclear test — its fifth and, with a force of 10 kilotons, strongest to date. The regime of Kim Jong-Un said the test showed it could mount a nuclear warhead on a missile. The claim wasn’t independently verified but nevertheless raised concerns about the North’s progress in nuclear weapons development.
The North in August fired a KN-11 submarine-launched ballistic missile, or SLBM, in waters off Sinpo, South Hamgyong Province, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency. The missile traveled for about 500 kilometers, or 311 miles, toward Japan — and actually reached Japan’s air defense identification zone, or ADIZ, for the first time, according to Reuters.
The KN-11, which is based in part on the Soviet-era R-27, R-29 and R-29RM designs, may give North Korea an improved capability to penetrate air defense systems in South Korea and Japan — even if launched from an aging fleet of about 70 submarines of mixed types.
U.S. officials are negotiating with South Korean counterparts to place a missile-defense battery, called the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, in the republic “to provide extended deterrence” against the North.