The nuclear-powered US aircraft carrier Carl Vinson. (Photo Pool)
US aircraft carriers will not be participating in joint military exercises with South Korea this April and May, according to a senior Defense Ministry official. The scale of the joint exercises has been the focus of some attention ahead of a planned inter-Korean summit late next month.
“While US aircraft carriers have taken part in joint South Korea-US exercises in the pass, it has been decided that none will be coming for the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises,” the official said on Mar. 8.
The US previous sent its USS John C. Stennis aircraft carrier for joint exercises in 2016 and its USS Carl Vinson in 2017. The decision not to have any aircraft carriers taking part in the upcoming exercises is seen as unusual.
The same official added that there had been “no notification from the US yet on whether nuclear-powered submarines would be part of the exercises.”
“There is a possibility no nuclear submarines will be coming either,” the source said.
But the official cautioned against reading too much into the absences.
“My understanding is the decision on whether to include certain US military strategy assets in exercises was made a long time ago in accordance with the strategic asset operation plan,” the official said.
“It’s not the case that they are not coming due to political factors such as the recent improvements in inter-Korean relations.”
But the downscaling of the US strategic asset presence in the exercises is predicted to have a positive effect on the Korean Peninsula situation going ahead, with rapid recent progress in South-North relations leading to an agreement to hold an inter-Korean summit in late April – and making the scale of the joint exercises a sensitive issue.
In a meeting earlier that morning with US Pacific Fleet Commander Adm. Scott Swift, Minister of National Defense Song Young-moo said, “Many charges are expected in inter-Korean relations and [security conditions] surrounding the Korean Peninsula.”
“In particular, we have a summit scheduled between the South and North Korean leaders in late April and the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises are set to continue, so I hope you will stay in place,” he told Swift.
Song also lent weight to predictions about downscaling of the exercises by light-heartedly remarking to Swift that the US “does not have to deploy things like nuclear-powered submarines on the Korean Peninsula [during the April joint exercises] while you are commander.”
After Song’s remarks sparked controversy, a senior ministry official visited the press room in person to deny the possibility of the exercises being scaled down.
“These South Korea-US joint exercises will be taking place at a similar level to past years,” the official said.
In an NBC report, three Pentagon officials were cited as saying the Foal Eagle joint exercise had been scheduled to begin on Mar. 31 (US time) and continue through May. The same officials also said the Key Resolve exercise would be taking place from mid- to late April.
By Park Byong-su and Jung E-gil, senior staff writers
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