While many South Korean media outlets expect the USS Theodore Roosevelt to be deployed near the peninsula in the coming weeks, it remains unconfirmed whether the U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier will actually show up, defense sources said Wednesday.
The U.S. military announced last week that the Roosevelt (CVN-71) has departed its San Diego home port for the Western Pacific and the Middle East.
It left for "deployment to the @US7th Fleet and @US5th Fleet areas of operation," the Pacific Command also tweeted earlier in the day.
It has prompted multiple South Korean news reports that the U.S. is sending another carrier strike group to the vicinity of the peninsula early next month amid North Korea's continued provocations.
The 7th Fleet's area of responsibility includes Korean waters, with the Roosevelt belonging to the 3rd Fleet that has sought to participate in more missions in the western part of the Pacific.
The USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76), a forward-deployed aircraft carrier based in Japan, is already operating in the region. It is en route to Korea for joint drills with South Korean warships in the East Sea later this month.
If the Roosevelt comes to Northeast Asia, even briefly, it would amount to a "dual-carrier operation."
Speaking in an interview during his trip to Seoul in September, the U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander Adm. Scott Swift said a dual-carrier operation in the region can be an option. He cited the flexibility of operating naval forces.
Realistically, however, it's not easy for the U.S. to deploy two flattops to the same "war theater." The U.S. has only 11 supercarriers in active service to cover all global theaters and some of them go through regular maintenance for months, according to a source. A flattop carries thousands of sailors, often accompanied by several other warships.
Another informed source said that it's true that the Roosevelt is transiting the Pacific Ocean but pointed out that the 7th Fleet's area of responsibility is quite wide, "stretching from the International Date Line to the India-Pakistan border; and from the Kuril Islands in the North to the Antarctic in the South."
The source would not speculate on details of the carrier strike group's upcoming operation.
The U.S. may decide to deploy the Roosevelt close to Korea temporarily in a more powerful show of force against North Korea in case it presses ahead with additional provocations this month.
South Korea wants the ally to dispatch more "strategic defense assets" to or near the peninsula.
After a deployment to the Western Pacific, meanwhile, the carrier is expected to operate in the Persian Gulf covered by the 5th Fleet, replacing the USS Nimitz (CVN-68). (Yonhqp News)