US Nuclear-Armed Submarine’s Historic Port Call in South Korea Amid Escalating Tensions
After 40 years, the nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarine USS Kentucky visited South Korea. South Korea’s Defense Ministry announced the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine’s arrival in Busan on Tuesday afternoon.
North Korea tested a solid-fueled intercontinental ballistic missile, escalating tensions. The US-South Korea Nuclear Consultative Group (NCG) met in Seoul during the port call.
After testing a long-range missile, North Korea threatened to shoot down US military reconnaissance aircraft conducting “hostile espionage” near its territory.
The submarine’s deployment worried Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and a senior official. She criticized the NCG for openly discussing nuclear weapons use against North Korea and a US strategic nuclear submarine in Korean Peninsula waters, which hasn’t happened in 40 years.
“Boomers,” Ohio-class subs, can carry 20 Trident II ballistic missiles with four nuclear warheads each. A US ballistic missile submarine could carry 80 nuclear warheads, complicating matters.
The port call was agreed upon in Washington during a meeting between US President Joe Biden and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, where they signed the “Washington Declaration.” The agreement deters North Korea from attacking South Korea.
The Biden-Yoon meeting established the NCG, which both allies say will improve their “combined deterrence and response posture.” They think such cooperation will bring peace and stability to the Korean Peninsula and Indo-Pacific.
Some analysts believe a US Navy ballistic missile submarine in a South Korean port may compromise its stealth and military value. Subs can fire 4,600-mile Trident missiles at North Korea from the Pacific, Indian, or Arctic oceans.
A US ballistic missile submarine hundreds of feet below the ocean’s surface and thousands of miles from North Korea would remain within striking distance without North Korean detection. Uncertainty underpins nuclear deterrence. The submarine becomes more visible and North Korea learns its location during port visits like the recent one in South Korea, potentially undermining surprise.
The US and South Korea are monitoring the region’s delicate situation to maintain peace and stability.