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Before Trump arrives, strategic assets assemble

Oct 26,2017
Ahead of U.S. President Donald Trump’s Asia tour early next month, American strategic assets including its powerful stealth fighters and three nuclear-powered aircraft carrier strike groups are gathering in the region.

The USS Nimitz, escorted by its cruisers, destroyers and submarines, joined the Roosevelt and Reagan carrier strike groups in the western Pacific, according to the Navy Wednesday.

The San Diego-based USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier arrived in the western Pacific Ocean, according to the U.S. Navy Tuesday. It is accompanied by the guided-missile cruiser USS Bunker Hill and guided-missile destroyers.

The USS Ronald Reagan carrier strike group arrived in Busan for a five-day maritime exercise with the South Korean Navy last week that ended Friday. It plans to go back to Japan Saturday.

On Tuesday, Gen. Jeong Kyeong-doo, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), and U.S. Forces Korea chief Gen. Vincent Brooks, met on the nuclear-powered USS Ronald Reagan warship anchored off the coast in Busan. Jeong was quoted by the JCS as saying the increased deployment of U.S. strategic assets to the area serves as “a strong warning to North Korea.”

The U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet area of operations covers the eastern Indian and western Pacific oceans.

The three carrier groups gathering in the western Pacific comes amid high tension in the Korean Peninsula region over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs and as China continues to flex its military muscle in the East and South China Sea region.

A Korean military official said there are no plans for any exercise with the Roosevelt strike group. However, the Roosevelt carrier is expected to be present during Trump’s visit to the region.

A government official familiar with military affairs said, “U.S. Forces Korea is paying close attention to whether North Korea, which has been quiet for over a month, will conduct a provocation during President Trump’s visit to Asia.”

That appears to be the reason for the strategic assets gathering in the Korean Peninsula region.

A dozen U.S. Air Force F-35A stealth fighters will be deployed to Kadena Air Base in Okinawa next month, which is their first operational deployment in the Asia-Pacific.

Trump kicks off his visit on Nov. 3 and will travel to Japan, Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines, as well as Hawaii.

According to the Air Force Tuesday, 12 F-35A Lightning IIs and some 300 airmen will be deployed to the Kadena base in early November for a six-month rotational deployment.

It was a part of a “long-planned deployment,” according to the Air Force, “designed to demonstrate the continuing U.S. commitment to stability and security in the region.”

They are deployed from the Hill Air Force Base in Utah under the U.S. Pacific Command’s theater security package program, which has been in operation since 2004.

They are expected to supplement the F-35B fighters permanently stationed at the Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Japan’s Yamaguchi Prefecture since January.

BY LEE CHUL-JAE, SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]