North Korea has vowed to sink a Navy flattop, but the carrier Carl Vinson is too far away in the Philippine Sea to fear an attack.
“They have anti-ship missiles but they’d be much, much shorter (range),” said Bruce Klinger, the senior research fellow for Northeast Asia at The Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center.
He added: “Right now, with the Vinson still being so far away from the Korean peninsula, North Korea has no ability to hit the battle group far away from the shores. And when the Vinson gets near the peninsula, it will be operating far offshore.”
The San Diego-based Vinson concluded bilateral training on Monday with a pair of Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyers north of the Philippines. The carrier is now sailing toward the Korean peninsula, according to Third Fleet spokesman Cmdr. Ryan Perry.
“The routine exercise is designed to improve combined maritime response and defense capabilities, increase combined maneuvering proficiency and ensure maritime forces remain ready to defend the region when called upon,” he said.
The Philippine Sea is about 1,000 miles south of North Korea’s coastal missile batteries. The farthest operational reach of most North Korean anti-ship weapon is under 100 miles, Klinger said. And to blunt the longer variants potentially facing the Vinson and her guided-missile escorts — the cruiser Lake Champlain and destroyers Michael Murphy and Wayne E. Meyer — the strike group can simply move farther out to sea, he added.
Navy warships boast a layered defense screen. The Evolved SeaSparrow interceptor forms the outer layer of the anti-missile shield — dozens of miles from a warship but the range remains classified — while the Phalanx Close-In radar-guided Gatling gun handles inbound enemy missiles within the last two miles.
Navy warship defenses are getting stronger, too. Defense titan Raytheon is fine-tuning a new Navy Rolling Airframe Missile — the SeaRAM — to blast everything from jets and missiles to attack boats, but its range remains classified.
“SeaRAM is designed to identify and destroy both supersonic and subsonic threats that approach a ship,” Raytheon Missile Systems, based in Tucson, Arizona, said in a statement to The San Diego Union-Tribune. “Those can include cruise missiles and helicopters. SeaRAM combines the sensor systems of the Phalanx close-in weapon system with the multi-round Rolling Airframe Missile system. RAM missiles use active infrared seekers to find and destroy a wide variety of threats that could come from miles away and approach the ship at extremely high speed.”
With distance and increasingly sophisticated high-tech defense systems on the Navy’s side, Heritage’s Klinger said North Korea’s ongoing tests of nuclear weapons and increasingly advanced intercontinental ballistic missiles reveal the real threat to the United States and allies in Tokyo and Seoul.
“They already can hit our allies with nukes,” said Klinger, who served in the Central Intelligence Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency before joining the conservative, Washington, D.C.-based think tank in 2007. “They’re working on the ability to hit Guam, which is a key node in the defense of the Pacific, including a defense of the Korean peninsula. And they continue to work on their ICBMs to directly target the U.S. homeland.”
The entire Senate has been invited to a Wednesday White House briefing on North Korea by top national security figures.
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