One month ago, when we first discussed that in addition to the CVN-70 Carl Vinson aircraft carrier group, the US was deploying two more carriers toward the Korean peninsula, some took the Yonhap-sourced report skeptically: after all, what's the incremental symbolic impact of having two aircraft carriers next to North Korea when just one would more than suffice. One month later, and the report has been proven half right: according to CNN, in addition to the first US carrier already on location, the US Navy is moving the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier to the Korean Peninsula where it will conduct dual-carrier training exercises with the USS Carl Vinson.
After completing its maintenance period in Yokosuka, Japan, the USS Ronald Reagan, just as we first reported a month ago, departed for the Korean Peninsula on Tuesday, according to the Navy.
"Coming out of a long in-port maintenance period we have to ensure that Ronald Reagan and the remainder of the strike group are integrated properly as we move forward," Rear Adm. Charles Williams said in a press release. Once it arrives in the region, the carrier will conduct a variety of training exercises but primarily focus on certifying its ability to safely launch and recover aircraft, the service said. In other words, traing for combat missions involved the North Korean capital.
The formal deployment comes several days after North Korea demonstrated a surprising leap forward in its missile program after launching a projectile that achieved "successful" controlled reentry into the earth's lower atmosphere rather than falling back to the surface, according to a preliminary US intelligence analysis.
The 1,092-foot CVN-76 Ronald Reagan carries a crew of 4,539 and is equipped with roughly 60 aircraft, according to the Navy. It was commissioned in 2003 and cost about $8.5 billion.
The USS Carl Vinson arrived at the Korean Peninsula late last month "as a show of force in advance of a long-anticipated sixth nuclear test from the North Korean government. While Pyongyang has yet to carry out that nuclear test, it did launch a KN-17 missile that achieved an altitude of more than 1,000 miles on Sunday" by far the longest reach yet in nation's missile test program.
According to CNN, defense officials would not comment on how long the US plans to operate two carriers near North Korea, but ultimately the Reagan is expected to replace the Vinson in the region once its deployment ends. Unless it isn't, in which case the US may further deploy the CVN-68 Nimitz, which was the third carrier reported to be eventually making its way toward Korea.
And while we wait, here is the latest weekly US Naval map courtesy of Stratfor.