By Jung Sung-ki
South Korea and the United States have agreed to stage joint naval exercises later this month in the West Sea, an official at the Ministry of National Defense said Friday.
“We’ve decided to stage joint naval drills in the final week of this month,” the official said. “U.S. warships belonging to the U.S. 7th Fleet, including an aircraft carrier, will join the drills as planned before.”
The two governments were originally scheduled to hold naval exercises, including a joint anti-submarine drill, in early June in a show of force against possible North Korean provocation in waters near the sea border. But the plan was postponed as the allies put more weight on diplomatic efforts to censure the North, blamed for the March 26 sinking of the Navy frigate Cheonan.
A multinational investigation team released a report last month saying that a North Korean submarine had torpedoed the 1,200-ton frigate. Forty-six sailors lost their lives in the naval disaster.
The forthcoming exercises will address scenarios, such as thwarting special forces infiltration into the South, detecting North Korean submarines, and combined operations of the Navy and Air Force, according to ministry officials.
A joint anti-submarine exercise is expected to be held next month, they said.
The U.S. 7th Fleet will likely dispatch the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington, as well as nuclear-powered submarines, Aegis-equipped warships and amphibious assault landing ships, the officials said. Named after the first president of the United States, George Washington is the sixth ship in the Nimitz class. Commissioned in July 1992, she is 233 meters in length and 78 meters in width.
The 100,000-ton aircraft carrier based in the Yokosuka naval base in Japan can accommodate about 6,250 crew members and carry some 90 fixed wing aircraft and helicopters.
South Korea plans to mobilize 4,500-ton KDX-II destroyers, 1,800-ton Type-214 attack submarines and F-15K fighter jets for the exercise.