Today, the South Korean and U.S. navies kicked off massive combined drills off the coast of the Korean peninsula amid heightened tensions, a training exercise which North Korea has warned may prompt another ballistic missile launch potentially to coincide with the launch of the Chinese 19th Party Congress on October 18. The two allies plan to continue the Maritime Counter Special Operations Exercise (MCSOFEX) through Friday in the East Sea and the Yellow Sea.
As reported over the weekend, the drill involves the U.S. 7th Fleet’s aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) and two Arleigh Burke-class destroyers – the USS Stethem (DDG-63) and the USS Mustin (DDG-89). The carrier strike group will train with South Korean warships and other defense assets, such as the Sejong the Great Aegis ship and P-3 Orion anti-submarine aircraft in the East Sea.
And while details of the drill were well-known in advance, what was reported for the first time overnight from Yonhap is that a unit of U.S. special forces tasked with carrying out “decapitation” operations is also aboard a nuclear-powered submarine in the group, according to a defense source. So far, little else is known about why said decapitation team is on location, or whether it will be put into use, although it presence may explain Trump’s “calm before the storm” comment that beffudled the media two weeks ago.
Among other assets mobilized for the joint drill are F-15K, FA-18 and A-10 fighter jets, as well as AH-64E Apache attack helicopters, Lynx and AW-159 Wild Cat naval choppers. The U.S. has also deployed a Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) plane to closely monitor the North’s ground and naval forces.
Some more details about the drill from Yonhap:
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