S.Korea, U.S. Start Naval Exercises in West Sea

      November 29, 2010 13:34

      South Korea and the U.S. began four days of joint naval exercises in the West Sea on Sunday designed to discourage further provocations by North Korea following an artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island last week. Although this drill is smaller than "Invincible spirit" held in July in response to North Korea's sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan, it is according to a military source the largest combined naval exercise yet in the West Sea.

      A drill involving the aircraft carrier was originally envisioned as one of the responses to the sinking of the Cheonan but did not happen at the time due to Chinese resistance. It has now been expanded following the Yeonpyeong attack.

      North Korea and China are alarmed by the presence of the U.S. aircraft carrier George Washington in the West Sea. The nuclear-powered ship has an operational radius of 1,000 km, which covers all of North Korea, as well as Beijing and Shanghai.

      Aerial defense drills will see eight of South Korea's cutting-edge F-15K and KF-16 fighter jets taking part at a bombing range off the coast of Gunsan, North Jeolla Province. An amphibious landing exercise is being held on the western coast. The exercises, which are conducted around the clock, are being held 66 km off the coast of Gunsan. The area has seen joint military drills in the past, according to a Joint Chiefs of Staff official.

      The U.S. military aircraft carrier USS George Washington /Yonhap

      On Sunday the George Washington and other American military assets and South Korea's first Aegis destroyer King Sejong the Great and other vessels met up and moved to waters off Gunsan.

      The U.S. naval fleet forms the center of the drill, and at its heart is the George Washington, one of the world's largest aircraft carriers weighing 100,000 tons and carrying 80 fighter aircraft. They are FA-18 C/D "Hornet" fighter jets, FA-18 E/F "Super Hornet" fighter jets, EA-6B "Prowler" electronic warfare aircraft, E-2C "Hawkeye" surveillance aircraft, as well as C-2 transport planes and SH-60 helicopters.

      Built at a cost of more than US$4.5 billion, the Washington carries some 6,000 troops including navigators and pilots. Described as a "floating city" because it has its own broadcast station, post office, hospital and church, it took part in joint naval drills with South Korea in October last year.

      It is flanked by the Aegis cruiser Cowpens (9,600 tons), and the Aegis destroyers Shiloh, Stethem and Fitzgerald (over 9,700 tons). Some of them carry SM-3 interceptor missiles that can shoot down intercontinental ballistic missiles. Some of these Aegis vessels are also equipped with Tomahawk cruise missiles that can deliver surgical strikes on targets 1,600 km to 2,300 km away. The weapons are believed to have a deterrent effect on North Korea.

      Tomahawk missiles can hit North Korean "Silkworm" anti-ship missile bases and underground command centers with pin-point accuracy. There had been speculation that state-of-the-art F-22 Raptor fighter jets would take part in the drill, but the JCS denied this.

      The South Korean military has dispatched the King Sejong the Great as well as the 4,500 ton KDX-II destroyers Munmu the Great and Chungmugong Yi Sun-shin. Corvettes, convoy vessels, supply ships, P-3C surveillance planes and Lynx anti-submarine helicopters are also taking part.

      The two sides are not saying whether submarines are taking part in the exercise, but experts believe that one or two U.S. Los Angeles-class nuclear-powered subs and the 214 and 209 class South Korean subs are taking part.

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