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Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
The U.S. nuclear-powered fast attack submarine the USS Cheyenne (SSN 773) arrived at Busan port, South Korea on Tuesday armed with Tomahawk cruise and Sub-Harpoon antiship missiles, the Commander of U.S. Naval Forces Korea (CNFK) announced.
The CNFK said the entry of USS Cheyenne, a Los Angeles-class submarine, is “a routine visit during a regularly scheduled deployment to the Western Pacific,” and did not provide further details.
This is the third visit of a U.S. nuclear-powered submarine open to the public in South Korea since March.
The U.S. Navy’s largest submarine, the USS Michigan (SSGN 727), arrived in Busan in late April amid growing tensions with the North on the occasion of the 85th foundation anniversary of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) – a holiday which saw the DPRK conduct its largest-ever military drill.
The USS Columbus (SSN-762) was also deployed to the Korean peninsula to participate in the annual joint Foal Eagle military exercises in March.
U.S. President Donald Trump said he had sent two nuclear submarines to waters off the Korean Peninsula in response to North Korean provocations, and had “a lot of firepower over there” during a phone conversation with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on April 29 which was leaked to press.
Moon Keun-sik of the Korea Defense and Security Forum (KODEF) said the objectives of the USS Michigan and the USS Cheyenne would likely be very different.
The USS Michigan, which weighs more than 18,000 tons, was originally designed to launch nuclear missiles, but was converted to carry up to 154 Tomahawk cruise missiles.
The Tomahawk Land Attack Missile (TLAM) is known to be able to conduct precise strikes on targets and carries subsonic cruise missiles used for deep land attack warfare: missiles that were used in early April’s attack on the Shayrat airbase in Syria by the U.S. Navy.
“The missiles can fly and target a specific window [in a building] and can travel up to 1500 miles… Along with the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, [the U.S.] is showing that they can attack [the North] secretly,” Moon previously told NK News.
“The mission of the Cheyenne, however, is to protect submarines carrying nuclear weapons or to track and monitor the other’s submarines equipped with nuclear weapons,” Moon told NK News on Tuesday. “The Cheyenne also protects the carrier strike groups from the front of the aircraft carrier.”
The USS Cheyenne also is known to be equipped with Mark-48 heavyweight torpedoes, which can be used in anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface ship warfare (ASuW) weapons, and Harpoon anti-ship missiles.
The U.S. Navy says on its official web page that attack submarines like the USS Cheyenne are designed to “project power ashore with Tomahawk cruise missiles and Special Operation Forces (SOF).”
Rodong Sinmun, an organ of North Korea’s ruling party, previously said that “nuclear-powered submarine with Tomahawk missiles”, along with the B-52 Stratofortress and B-2 Spirit bomber planes, were a means to “conduct decapitation operations striking the North’s leadership.”
In 2003, the Cheyenne was the first ship to launch Tomahawk cruise missiles during the invasion of Iraq.
The vessel arrived at the Fleet Activities Sasebo base in Japan on May 2 as part of its Indo-Asia-Pacific deployment, with the U.S. Navy saying the visit “strengthens the already positive alliance between the U.S. and Japan” and “demonstrates the U.S. Navy’s commitment to regional stability and maritime security in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. 7th Fleet said on June 1 that the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76) and USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) aircraft carriers were joined by the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Forces (JMSDF) in an exercise in the Sea of Japan.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: U.S. Navy, published on July 28, 2016