North Korea, feeling pressure of encroaching American and allied vessels, has now threatened to make a ghost ship of a U.S. nuclear submarine — but the warning might not be hyperbolic rhetoric.
“The moment the USS Michigan tries to budge even a little, it will be doomed to face the miserable fate of becoming an underwater ghost without being able to come to the surface,” railed propagandic North Korean outlet, Uriminzokkiri, quoted by the Independent.
“The urgent fielding of the nuclear submarine in the waters off the Korean Peninsula, timed to coincide with the deployment of the super aircraft carrier strike group, is intended to further intensify military threats toward our republic.”
Announced as a routine, scheduled training exercise with ally, South Korea, President Trump sent an ‘armada’ of U.S. vessels to the waters off the Korean peninsula, which now includes the nuclear-powered U.S.S. Michigan and the U.S.S. Carl Vinson aircraft carrier group — which, as Bloomberg reports, are also accompanied by the “destroyers USS Wayne E. Meyer and USS Michael Murphy and the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain.”
All of this firepower, whatever the guise under which they arrived near Pyongyang’s doorstep, has been characterized by the North as “intimidation and blackmail,” particularly given Trump’s pugnacious assertions he would not allow secretive regime to develop nuclear missiles capable of striking the U.S. mainland.
Both Japan and South Korea, traditional U.S. allies in the region, continue with other allied nations to coordinate in hopes of lessening the chance Kim Jong-un would act aggressively amid stifling tensions, as Uriminzokkiri stated outright, “whether it’s a nuclear aircraft carrier or a nuclear submarine, they will be turned into a mass of scrap metal in front of our invincible military power centred on the self-defence nuclear deterrence.”
Trump recently stumped South Korea by calling for Seoul to pay up to $1 billion for its use of the THAAD missile defense system along its border with the North; but national security adviser H.R. McMaster has since insisted to his South Korean counterpart, Kim Kwan-jin, the U.S. would ensure its ally’s safety.
As the U.S. armada began arriving for exercises, Pyongyang test fired another ballistic missile, and although Washington reported that firing a failure — the missile ostensively disintegrated just minutes after launch, its pieces landing in the Sea of Japan — the cloistered nation continued threats like the aforementioned.
China, North Korea’s strongest ally, has urged Pyongyang to employ discretion and caution in engaging the U.S., warning any sudden moves like firing upon the American fleet would bring the region into full-scale military conflict.
Asked about the latest test and for a general message on the topic of North Korea, Trump ominously stated, without elaborating further,
“You’ll soon find out, won’t you?”
Of course, with nationalist and military propaganda thoroughly inundating any discussion of the situation, a realistic picture of what could happen if and when rhetoric turns kinetic has been difficult to discern.
Reports such as those from the U.S. Naval Institute claim superiority in firepower, both defensive and offensive, should Pyongyang follow through with increasingly belligerent threats — but some analyses caution the Vinson group and accompanying ships might be capable of the destruction officials have championed.
Bloomberg, for instance, headlined an article, “Trump ‘Armada’ Sent to Deter Kim Can’t Shoot Down His Missiles,” on Tuesday — the same day the Michigan arrived in the South Korean port city of Busan to join the others.
Noted Bloomberg of the Vinson group and armada, “They aren’t equipped with the version of the Aegis surveillance system made by Lockheed Martin Corp. that can track long-range ballistic missiles or Raytheon Co.’s SM-3 interceptors that are capable of bringing down medium and longer-range ballistic missiles.
“Nor are the modern Japanese Navy destroyers JS Samidare and JS Ashigara that joined the Vinson group for exercises equipped for missile defense detection or intercepts, a Japanese Navy spokesman confirmed. And the three South Korean ‘Sejong the Great’-class destroyers currently in operation don’t have ballistic missile defense capability, Tom Callender, a naval forces analyst with the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, said in an interview.”
Further, although the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system has been placed around 35 miles from the Korean demilitarized zone, its hardware is not yet fully operational — leaving South Korea vulnerable even as its neighbor to the North specifically takes issue with that defense.
Pentagon spokesman Navy Commander Gary Ross refused to answer specifics on U.S. weapons defense capabilities, he emphasized for Bloomberg, “no single capability defends against all threats. Rather it is the employment of integrated, multi-layered land and sea-based systems that provide missile defense” — for the U.S. and its allies.
“We have ballistic missile ships in the Sea of Japan, in the East Sea, that are capable of defending against ballistic missile attacks,” Navy Admiral Harry Harris, the head of U.S. forces in Korea and the Pacific, asserted Wednesday to the House Armed Services Committee.
He added of ships escorting the Vinson group that defense of the armada would not be a question, stating,
“If it flies, it will die, if it’s flying against the Carl Vinson strike group.”
Defense analyst David Wright with the Union of Concerned Scientists explained that, even if Aegis-equipped vessels were present in the waters near North Korea and Japan, the U.S. would not be capable of striking down another ICBM immediately after it was launched.
“There is a misconception that if it was close enough,” a U.S. Navy BMD vessel “could shoot a missile down during boost phase. But it doesn’t have that capability,” Wright said. “During boost phase the missile is an accelerating target, and Aegis doesn’t have the maneuverability to home in on such a target.
“Similarly, it would not be able to shoot down shorter-range missiles, like the Musudan, during boost phase. You might be able to shoot it down after boost phase, but by that time North Korea would be able to get information about the most critical part of the trajectory, so that strategy is unlikely to slow” Kim’s ardent quest to develop missiles.
No matter how stridently Trump feels toward quashing North Korea’s nuclear weapons hopes, any designs the U.S. might have to depose the Kim regime will not likely see success — even if physically successful.
Business Insider pointed out, the secretive nation still considers itself under the rule of ‘forever leader,’ Kim Il Sung, who died in 1994 — and North Koreans vociferously support longstanding goals of nuclear aggression against the world.
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