Asia Pacific

U.S. to send stealth fighters, nuclear sub for military drills with South Korea next month: report

by Jesse Johnson

Staff Writer

Just two days after North Korea’s test-firing of a new type of medium- to long-range ballistic missile, defense officials in Seoul said Tuesday that the United States would send key strategic assets to the South for joint military exercises scheduled for next month, a report said.

“The two sides have agreed to send such weapons as the F-22 stealth fighter and a nuclear-powered submarine to the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises in March,” the South’s Yonhap news agency quoted a defense official as saying.

This year’s joint exercises, which are held annually, have been touted as the “biggest ever,” and are likely to stoke anger in Pyongyang, which regards them as preparations for war on the Korean Peninsula.

Some observers also expect the U.S. to send B-1B strategic bombers stationed in Guam and the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier strike group to the exercises. The Vinson arrived in Guam on Friday for the aircraft carrier’s first port visit as part of an ongoing deployment to the Western Pacific. The U.S. dispatched USS John C. Stennis for last year’s exercises.

“We are in talks with the U.S. to determine the size of U.S. strategic assets to be deployed and the range of their exposure to local media,” Yonhap quoted the South Korean Defense Ministry as saying Tuesday in a report to lawmakers.

The exercises will also feature the Korea Massive Punishment & Retaliation (KMPR) plan, which directly targets the North’s top military officials — including leader Kim Jong Un — with so-called decapitation strikes in the event there are clear signs of the imminent use of nuclear weapons.

It was unclear if the decision to send the strategic assets was a response to the North’s test Sunday of the Pukguksong-2 ballistic missile. Pyongyang claimed Monday that the new missile is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead and is propelled by a solid-fuel engine — a technological stride that rocketry experts characterized as a vast improvement on earlier missiles.

“What this missile brings to the table is a much higher degree of mobility, survivability and responsiveness than the Nodong,” John Schilling, an aerospace engineer and expert on North Korea’s missile program, wrote Monday on the influential 38 North website. The Nodong model, also known as the Rodong, is the workhorse of North Korea’s strategic arsenal.

Schilling said the new missile also likely packed enough punch to reach targets in South Korea and parts of Japan.

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