President Trump just made another move in the deadly game of chess with North Korea.
The United States has deployed an additional Ohio-class missile submarine to the Korean Peninsula. The subs will be joined by carrier USS Carl Vinson later this week. There is already a good deal of tension in the area because of continued North Korean missile tests and provocation. The subs are officially taking part in joint military exercises with the South Korean Navy, but unofficially, they signal an American commitment to defend South Korea and the capability to offer a first strike.
The Ohio-class submarine was originally designed to launch nuclear missiles. As a result, it has stealth capabilities, early warning radar, and the ability to quickly launch its entire compliment of missiles within minutes while barely registering on enemy radar. After the end of the Cold War, the missile sub was repurposed with 150 Tomahawk land attack cruise missiles. Their compliment of missiles is often more than the entire stock held by cruisers and destroyers. In the event of North Korean provocation, they could quickly locate, target, and launch missiles against North Korean air defenses, missile batteries, radar, and nuclear testing facilities. Their position close to North Korean territory allows for additional warning and notification of any North Korean provocation. Most importantly, their stealth and quick-launch capabilities mean the two ships could shoot all 300 of their missiles in as few as six minutes. This would overwhelm air defenses and provide the possibility of an easier first strike.
Donald Trump has promised the end of indulging North Korean misbehavior. He has worked with Chinese president Xi Jinping to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear program. But Trump has also shown a willingness to use American force in Syria. Trump struck without warning and did so as an important first step and signal to American enemies. He showed that there is a new sheriff in town and that he is willing to use force to stop rogue actors. The Ohio-class submarine provides the same capability in the Korean Peninsula. It will allow Trump to execute the kind of strategy that he prefers—a bold, quick strike that signals US intention and capabilities to do more. Like in Syria, Trump would use that force as leverage to offer new terms and a long-term strategy from a position of strength. On Tuesday, the North Koreans celebrate the 85th anniversary of the creation of their army, so it promises to be an event-filled week, and the Ohio-class subs will likely play a key part.