The U.S. and South Korea ran anti-submarine and precision strike drills near North Korea’s maritime border Monday.
The exercises occurred outside the standard joint exercise cycle and were intended as a warning to North Korea, which has been engaging in increasingly provocative behavior on land and at sea, according to multiple sources.
In addition to presenting a show of force to North Korea, the U.S. and South Korean navies trained to counter “surface, subsurface, and ballistic missile threats,” according to a U.S. Forces Korea statement.
The Arleigh Burke-class missile destroyer USS Spruance (DDG 111) joined forces with South Korea’s Aegis destroyer Yulgok YiYi, as well as South Korean submarines. South Korea’s anti-submarine helicopters flew alongside the U.S. and South Korean P-3 patrol aircraft.
“This operation showcases the unwavering strength of resolve of the U.S. and ROK navies … We will remain by their side to defend against North Korea’s unprovoked acts of aggression,” explained Rear Adm. Brad Cooper, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Korea and Task Force 78.
The USS Spruance is outfitted with Standard Missile-3s (SM-3), a ship-launched missile designed to knock out ballistic missiles, Moon Keun-sik, the director of the Korea Defense and Security Forum (KODEF), told NK News. The Yulgok YiYi can spot missiles, but it does not have the SM-3s needed to effectively eliminate ballistic missiles traveling at high altitudes. Both ships are reportedly equipped with SM-2s.
The Aegis system can reportedly track up to 100 targets at a time and is the only naval defense system designed to intercept ballistic missiles.
Theoretically, were North Korea to fire a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), the South Korean destroyer would detect the missile, and the U.S. missile destroyer would destroy it before it could pose a threat.
The emphasis on anti-submarine warfare and ballistic missile interception comes in the aftermath of North Korea’s fifth nuclear test, after which Pyongyang claimed it has the ability to mount a nuclear warhead on a ballistic missile. Last month, North Korea successfully tested a SLBM. The combination of the two weapons could threaten South Korea’s national security, as well as the safety and security of countries operating in the region.
North Korea probably does not have the capability to do this at this time. The North has a fleet of submarines; however, it appears to only have one submarine, the Gorae-class sub, capable of firing a ballistic missile. The one sub can carry one Pukkusong-1 SLBM. While Pyongyang may not have advanced submarine warfare capabilities, there is evidence that Pyongyang wants to further develop these capabilities.
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