Strategic military options considered amid tensions

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Strategic military options considered amid tensions

The South Korean Ministry of National Defense said Monday that Seoul and Washington are considering bringing over strategic U.S. military assets, possibly including B-52 and B-2 bombers and a nuclear-armed submarine, as the two allies move to strengthen their joint defense posture amid mounting tension on the Korean Peninsula.

“South Korea and the United States are continuously keeping a close watch over the current crisis situation on the Korean Peninsula, and are reviewing with flexibility the timing of the deployment of the U.S. military’s strategic assets,” Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said in a briefing on Monday.

While Kim did not give details on the type of equipment, military officials indicated it could include the deployment of jet-powered B-52 bombers, B-2 stealth bombers and F-22 Raptor advanced stealth fighters from U.S. bases in Guam and Japan, as well as a fast-attack nuclear-powered submarine stationed at the U.S. Navy base at Yokosuka in central Japan. North Korea has been bolstering its combat readiness on all fronts since declaring a quasi-state of war Thursday.

On Monday, multiple military officials in Seoul said that Pyongyang had deployed some 20 air-cushion vehicles from its Cholsan base in North Pyongan Province to the coast on the southwestern port city of Nampo in South Pyongan Province.

Some of these amphibious landing craft are only 60 kilometers (37 miles) from the Northern Limit Line, the western maritime border in the Yellow Sea between North and South Korea since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.

Despite ongoing high-level inter-Korean talks, which kicked off Saturday, 50 out of the 70 submarines North Korea operates went off the radar over the weekend.

Seoul officials said that once these submarines are dispatched underwater, even though they are old and have conventional capabilities, they may be difficult to trace, which increases the risk of attack on a South Korean vessel.

However, military officials said that it will be difficult for the submarines to enter South Korean seas. The North also doubled its artillery units along its borders.

In the briefing, Defense Ministry spokesman Kim said that the priority for South Korean troops and the U.S. Forces Korea is to deter any provocation from North Korea.

“It is a priority to hold a strong defense posture to deter any such provocations and, if provoked, we will respond so severely that North Korea will regret it.”

“In that aspect,” he continued, “South Korea and the U.S. are continuing to cooperate.”

Seoul and Washington on Friday raised their five-stage Watch Condition to Level 2, up one notch from before, indicating a critical threat is detected. Level 1 indicates a state of war.

The South Korean Navy’s Aegis destroyers and other patrols ships are currently monitoring North Korea’s movements around the clock.

In its recent report on its Asia-Pacific Maritime Security Strategy, the U.S Department of Defense stated that the Pentagon was strengthening its regular maritime exercises with South Korea and Japan, “focusing on enhancing our combined capabilities to counter provocations and manage the changing Northeast Asian security environment.”

In regard to annual joint military exercises with South Korea, it said, “Though its original purpose was to counter special operations forces, the annual bilateral Key Resolve/Foal Eagle exercise with the [Republic of Korea] now includes amphibious operations and anti-submarine warfare in recognition of the importance of the maritime domain in defending South Korea.”

In May, North Korea successfully test-fired an underwater submarine-launched ballistic missile, raising concerns in Washington.

Seoul and Washington are currently conducting another annual joint military drill, Ulchi Freedom Guardian, which runs until Friday.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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