Three US nuclear-powered Nimitz-class aircraft carriers representing nearly $30 billion of advanced military hardware put on show of force in the Western Pacific Ocean over the weekend, the first time three of the 100,000-ton behemoths have sailed together in a decade. Amidst heightened tensions with North Korea the USS Ronald Reagan, USS Nimitz, and the USS Theodore Roosevelt are currently engaged in a four day war games exercise which will link up with allies Japan and South Korea, who are also participating.
The last time three US aircraft carrier strike groups worked together in the Western Pacific was off the US island of Guam in 2007, according to a Navy statement.
The USS Ronald Reagan, USS Theodore Roosevelt and USS Nimitz and their multi-ship strike groups are participating in the four days of exercises, which are expected to end Tuesday. A South Korean Defense Ministry official said the three US carriers held drills on either side of the waters separating the Korean Peninsula and Japan. Exercises closest to the Korean coast involved US and South Korean ships, while those closest to Japan involved US and Japanese ships, the official said.
"Multiple carrier strike force operations are very complex, and this exercise in the Western Pacific is a strong testament to the US Pacific Fleet's unique ability and ironclad commitment to the continued security and stability of the region," Adm. Scott Swift, the commander of the US Pacific Fleet, said in a statement.
"We sent three of the largest aircraft carriers in the world (to the Korean Peninsula) and a nuclear submarine is also positioned," US President Donald Trump said after his arrival in South Korea last week.
Though the Navy says the drills are meant to showcase its “unique capability to operate multiple carrier strike groups as a coordinate strike force effort,” the three-carrier strike force is no doubt meant to send a signal of overwhelming military might to North Korea's Kim Jong-Un.
The full deployment of US naval forces around the globe is shown in the following map courtesy of Stratfor:
Ironically, on the very day the drills were formally launched President Trump tweeted the following from Vietnam where he was attending the APEC Summit while in the midst of a 12-day, five-nation trip to Asia:
Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me "old," when I would NEVER call him "short and fat?" Oh well, I try so hard to be his friend - and maybe someday that will happen!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 12, 2017
As we've observed many time before, the possibility of a war between the US and North Korea seems just one harshly worded tweet away, and the window of opportunity for a diplomatic solution, as well as for the US stopping Kim Jong-Un from obtaining a nuclear-armed ICBM closing fast, analysts have started to analyze President Trump’s military options, what a war between the US and North Korea would look like, and what the global economic consequences would be.
The rarity of seeing this many Nimitz-class supercarriers at once - especially at this moment of extreme tension - is perhaps a sign that we are inching toward such an unthinkable and unpredictable war. The drill constitutes the first time in a decade that a three-carrier strike force has been deployed to the region and various reports have acknowledged the build-up of this many carriers as "unusual".
South Korea's role in the drills are summarized as follows:
Following the bilateral JMSDF-US Navy exercise, the carriers strike groups linked up with seven Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN) warships including two Aegis guided missile destroyers for war games meant to deter North Korea. “The combined drills are to present our resolve and will to deter North Korea’s provocations and retaliate if provoked,” Yonhap news agency quoted a South Korean official as saying.
Meanwhile, the Korean Central News Agency, North Korea’s official media outlet, issued a statement on November 11, accusing the United States of an unnecessary provocation which could trigger an arms race. “The U.S. efforts to expand its military influence in Asia-Pacific and the movement of big neighboring powers to contain it escalate the military tension and increase arms race in the region with each passing day,” it said.
KCNA also said that the presence of the three carriers was part of Washington's "sinister intention to maintain military hegemony in the region."
North Korean government officials told CNN's Will Ripley in Pyongyang last week that the US was increasingly taking action that could "ignite another Korean War."
"Nobody knows when and how the 'war maniac' Trump will ignite the 'wick of war,'" the officials said, referring to the presence of the carriers near the peninsula.
One hopes that the only time the world witnesses such a rare group deployment of three nuclear-powered US carrier is during drills, especially since the next sighting could mean the world has already plunged into war... even if it means providing the enemy with the most convenient target possible, one that would inflict more military damage on the US than any in history.