Showdown: U.S. Moving 3rd Carrier Strike Group Near N. Korea

U.S. Navy/M.C.S. 2nd Class Sean M. Castellano/Reuters

The U.S. Navy, in an unprecedented move, is sending a third carrier strike force to the Western Pacific.

The Nimitz group, Carrier Strike Group 11, will leave Naval Base Kitsap-Bremerton on Thursday to join the strike groups centered around the Carl Vinson and Ronald Reagan.

The presence of three aircraft carriers in the region suggests President Donald Trump is going to force the North Korea issue soon.

Sources have told both Voice of America and the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun that the deployment of the Nimitz is meant to serve as a warning to North Korea. “The Trump administration deployed the strike force to put pressure on Pyongyang to refrain from more nuclear and missile tests amid mounting concern that it will soon acquire the capability to launch intercontinental ballistic missiles,” Asahi reported .

There is plenty to warn the North Koreans about. They are apparently ready to conduct their sixth test of a nuclear device. The device, in all probability, has already been buried in a tunnel at the Punggye-ri test site in the northeastern part of the country. Satellite imagery indicates that all initial preparations have been completed.

Moreover, the North in recent days has been launching ballistic missiles at the rate of about one a week in what is obviously an accelerated program.

Recent efforts have generally been successful. On May 14, for instance, the Hwasong-12 was fired at a high trajectory to test the re-entry into the atmosphere of a warhead. Initial reports say the heat shielding worked, which means Pyongyang has passed a crucial technical threshold. As a result, Kim Jong Un, the North Korean supremo, should be able to hit the lower 48 states with a nuclear warhead in just a few years.

Most analysts say the Hwasong-12 is just an intermediate-range missile, but some think it is in fact an intercontinental one. Its range is of some interest because, in response to Kim’s January 1 boast, Trump said the North was never going to launch a long-range missile. “It won’t happen!” Trump, then president-elect, tweeted.

And this is where the Nimitz comes in. The carrier was scheduled to deploy to the Middle East, but now it has been rerouted to the Western Pacific because of the tensions on the Korean peninsula.

The Carl Vinson is already in the Sea of Japan, where it will participate in drills with the Reagan. It is not clear whether Nimitz will join the other two carriers, but the message of its re-deployment is clear.

“I served in the U.S. Navy from 1986 to 2015, and I do not remember a time that the U.S. has ever deployed three aircraft carrier strike groups to the Korean peninsula,” James Fanell, former director of Intelligence and Information Operations for the U.S. Pacific Fleet, told me Saturday. “If I were Kim Jong Un, I’d move deep underground.”

That would be a good place for the North Korean leader. As Fanell says, “Make no mistake: the target list for North Korea has been continuously updated […]