Washington: The USS Ronald Reagan has joined the USS Carl Vinson in the western Pacific, the US Navy has confirmed. The two “flattops” – both carrying squadrons of strike fighters and attack helicopters and accompanied by an escort of warships – are expected to carry out war drills with South Korea
The manoeuvres are seen as a thinly veiled warning to North Korea – which has continued to develop long-range missiles capable of carrying out a nuclear strike on mainland America. The deployment of two aircraft carriers to the same region at the same time is highly unusual.
The Ronald Reagan and its Carrier Air Wing Five – featuring fighter jets and early warning aircraft – began its spring patrol earlier this week, according to the Pacific Fleet. They are focused on “flight deck and carrier qualifications”.
The Carl Vinson and Carrier Strike Group 1 – which is made up of guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain and guided-missile destroyers USS Michael Murphy and USS Wayne E Meyer – have been operating in waters near Korea since late last month.The Ronald Reagan – which is based in nearby Japan – was earmarked to replace the Carl Vinson.
But the Carl Vinson’s mission has been extended through until the end of next month after North Korea tested what is believed to be an intermediate-range ballistic missile last weekend.
The Hermit Kingdom claims the test means it can now deliver a warhead to the US mainland. A Pacific Fleet spokesman said: “USS Carl Vinson and USS Ronald Reagan are in the Western Pacific, but they are not in close proximity to each other.”
Earlier in the day, a South Korean government source said the two may hold joint drills with South Korea’s Navy in the East Sea – between Korean and Japan – early next month.
The allies are in consultations on the exact schedule, the source said on the condition of anonymity, adding: “The Reagan is likely to enter the East Sea around the end of this month.”
South Korea’s military officials said the reclusive North apparently stands ready to conduct another nuclear test. They are concerned as well that it will test-fire a long-range rocket in the near future.