Large South Korea-US military exercises to involve nuclear submarine

Posted on : 2013-02-02 13:14 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Show of force apparently aimed at North Korea, which is believed to be planning its third nuclear test
 the nuclear submarine now being moored at Jinhae naval port in Masan. (photo pool)
the nuclear submarine now being moored at Jinhae naval port in Masan. (photo pool)

By Park Byong-su, staff reporter

Tensions are increasing on the Korean peninsula after North Korea warned it would soon conduct a third nuclear test. The US and South Korea have made a demonstration of military force aimed to put pressure on North Korea. Even so, the North is moving forward with the preparations for the test, including the installation of a screen over the entrance to the testing site.

The sudden announcement that the US and South Korea are planning to hold a joint anti-submarine training exercise in the East Sea next week, and that a 6900-ton US nuclear submarine arrived at Masan’s Jinhae naval port on Feb. 1, is being seen as a show of force directed at North Korea. The US is about to dispatch an aircraft carrier attached to the Seventh Fleet to Korea as well.

“Even though this is being described as an exercise that had already been planned, there is little doubt that it will send North Korea a message that we will not simply look on if they do anything wrong,” a senior military official said.

The US has from time to time used its nuclear capability as a means of pressuring North Korea to refrain from provocative action. In Nov. 2010, just after the North bombarded Yeonpyeong Island, the US sent the nuclear carrier USS George Washington to the region and conducted joint drills with South Korea. 

More than 19 years have passed since the nuclear submarine USS San Francisco entered Korean waters. The previous visit was in 1994, at a time of increased tensions following the first North Korean nuclear crisis and the death of North Korean founder Kim Il-sung.

The USS San Francisco, which just arrived at Jinhae, belongs to US Naval Submarine Squadron 11, which is based in California. The vessel is 110.3 meters long and 10.1 meters wide and is equipped with torpedoes and Tomahawk cruise missiles.

Currently moored in Busan and also meant to take part in the drill is the cruiser USS Shiloh (CZ-67), which has a displacement of 9800 tons. This Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser is armed with the latest SM-3 ship-based missile system, Tomahawk cruise missiles used for attacking ground-based targets, and torpedoes, in addition to the anti-submarine helicopter MH-60R Seahawk.

Around 10 South Korean naval vessels will be taking part in the joint drills, including the 7600-ton Aegis destroyer King Sejong the Great and a Type-214 submarine, with a displacement 1690 tons.

Meanwhile, North Korea recently installed a screen in front of the entrance to the tunnel housing the nuclear test site to evade the surveillance of spy satellites.

“We detected a roof-shaped screen being installed over the entrance to one of the tunnels at Punggye village in Gilju County, North Hamgyeong Province,” a a South Korean government official said. “They appear to have taken this measure to prevent their preparations for the nuclear launch, which have reached the final stage, from being disclosed to the outside.”

North Korea also set up a huge screen at the launch pad in Dongchang Village before its long-range missile launch in Dec. 2012 in order to keep away the prying eyes of spy satellites before assembling the rocket.

Pyongyang also made a gesture calling for dialogue. On Feb. 1, the Joseon Shinbo, published by the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, which speaks for North Korea, once again called for a reopening of peace talks. “As past attempts reveal, increasing sanctions will not change North Korea’s mind; all it does is aggravate the situation even further,” the newspaper said. “Returning to the peace talks is the only sure way of preventing war.”

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