Half of Nuclear Carriers Headed to the Korean Peninsula, What’s the Plan?
There is speculation that five carriers of the total US nuclear-powered aircraft carriers (11 vessels) could gather around the Korean Peninsula for the first time in April and May. This aircraft carrier gathering appears to target the ongoing threats from North Korea and China, timed with the South Korean general elections (April 10) and the inauguration of Taiwan’s president (May 20).
Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported that in addition to the USS Ronald Reagan, USS Theodore Roosevelt, and USS Carl Vinson already deployed in the Western Pacific around the Korean Peninsula, the USS Abraham Lincoln and USS George Washington could also be deployed near the Korean Peninsula in early May.
According to the US Naval Institute (USNI), as of February 5, the USS Ronald Reagan of the US 7th Fleet is docked in Yokosuka, Japan, The USS Theodore Roosevelt is in Guam, and The USS Carl Vinson is deployed in the waters south of Okinawa. Three US aircraft carriers are deployed in the Western Pacific around the Korean Peninsula.
In addition, the USS Abraham Lincoln set sail for the Western Pacific from San Diego, California, on February 5. After completing a 2 to 4-week combat readiness training, the USS is expected to be deployed in the Western Pacific around April.
First time ever for five carriers to gather in the Western Pacific
The USS George Washington, currently stationed in the Atlantic, is also expected to arrive in the Western Pacific near the Korean Peninsula in April or May to replace the USS Ronald Reagan under repair in Yokosuka, Japan.
The overseas deployment cycle of the US aircraft carriers is six months, so it is expected that the USS Carl Vinson and Theodore Roosevelt will each perform their duties in the Western Pacific region until April and July of this year, respectively.
It’s reported that it is the first time five US aircraft carriers have gathered in one sea area since the Gulf War and the first time in the waters around the Korean Peninsula. In January 2022, there was a case where three US nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and two medium-sized amphibious assault ships, a total of five vessels, gathered in East Asia, such as the East China Sea and the South China Sea. Still, two of the five vessels were not nuclear-powered aircraft carriers.
In response, a US Navy spokesperson stated, “We will not comment on the possibility of deploying five US aircraft carriers near the Korean Peninsula due to security and future operational issues.”
With the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine and the Israel-Hamas conflict entering its fifth month, the crisis is escalating due to attacks on civilian vessels by Yemen’s Houthi rebels. Considering that only one US aircraft carrier, the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, is currently deployed in the Middle East, it is highly unusual.
Bruce Bennett, a senior researcher at the RAND Corporation, said, “If five US aircraft carriers gather near the Korean Peninsula, North Korea and China will be terrified. In response to the possibility of North Korea and China’s military threat in line with the South Korean general elections in April and the inauguration of Taiwan’s president in May, South Korea, the US, and Japan must prepare corresponding countermeasures.”
Lee Il Woo, director of the Autonomous National Defense Network, said, “The gathering of five US aircraft carriers is the largest scale since the Gulf War from the US perspective and the first time in the waters near the Korean Peninsula.”
The United States and Western aircraft carriers are flocking to the Indo-Pacific region.
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni announced on January 5, after the Italian-Japanese summit, the deployment plan of the Italian Navy’s 30,000-ton aircraft carrier ITS Cavour, which was commissioned in 2008. 16 vertical take-off and landing Harrier units had been used as aircraft carriers, and they were recently replaced with the US Marine Corps stealth fighter F-35B, increasing its air power.
The deployment of an Italian aircraft to the Indo-Pacific for the first time in its history is reportedly under consideration as early as the end of this month. Italian media reported that the Cavour plans to conduct joint training with the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force to deter China and North Korea, mainly to share the know-how of operating the F-35B with Japanese light aircraft carriers.
European military powers are also deploying aircraft carriers in the Indo-Pacific
France is also considering deploying its nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle to the Indo-Pacific region within the year, according to reports from overseas major media outlets. The UK had planned to deploy either the Queen Elizabeth or the Prince of Wales aircraft carrier to the Indo-Pacific within the year, but it has been somewhat delayed due to urgent repairs to the carriers.
Along with the US increasing the deployment of aircraft carriers in the Asia-Pacific region to deter North Korea and China, European aircraft carrier-owning countries have decided to deploy aircraft carriers to the Indo-Pacific this year.
Experts analyze that they are gathering in East Asia to strengthen pressure on China under the pretext of securing freedom of navigation in the Indo-Pacific. Although Germany and the Netherlands do not own aircraft carriers, they plan to send navy escort ships to the Indo-Pacific to join in pressuring China.