SEOUL, July 18 (UPI) –– An Ohio-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine, the USS Kentucky, arrived in Busan on Tuesday for the first visit of its kind in more than 40 years, South Korea’s Defense Ministry said, as Seoul and Washington step up efforts to deter nuclear threats from North Korea .
The 560-foot-long Kentucky is capable of launching up to 20 Trident II D-5 ballistic missiles, which have a maximum range of around 7,500 miles. It has a displacement of 18,750 metric tons when submerged and is powered by a single nuclear reactor.
The visit by a U.S. Navy nuclear ballistic missile submarine, known as an SSBN, was announced in April as part of the Washington Declaration signed by U.S. President Joe Biden and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol during a state visit to the White House.
In a press statement , South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup said the deployment “demonstrates through action that U.S. extended deterrence for South Korea will be firmly implemented.”
“We are demonstrating a strong U.S.-South Korea combined defense posture to our people and the international community,” he said.
The port call is the first by an SSBN since 1981 .
The Kentucky’s arrival coincided with the inaugural meeting of a new bilateral group formed to discuss ways to deter North Korea’s nuclear threat and utilize American strategic assets on the Peninsula.
The first session of the Nuclear Consultative Group, led by U.S. National Security Coordinator for Indo-Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell and South Korean deputy national security adviser Kim Tae-hyo, was held in Seoul earlier on Tuesday.
Yoon called the meeting “very meaningful” and said that the NCG “must thoroughly respond to the evolving North Korean nuclear and missile threats by strengthening its extended deterrence capabilities.”
“As President Biden warned in April that a nuclear attack by North Korea would lead to the end of the regime, the nuclear-based South Korea-U.S. alliance must strengthen the implementation of extended deterrence so that North Korea does not dare to use nuclear weapons,” he said.
North Korea has conducted weapons tests at a record-setting pace since the beginning of 2022. Last week, Pyongyang fired its new Hwasong-18 ICBM , a solid-fuel missile that analysts say is more maneuverable and quicker to launch than liquid-fuel models.
The North has consistently framed its nuclear and missile programs as an exercise in self-defense against hostile activities by U.S. and South Korean military forces.
On Monday, Kim Yo Jong, the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un , said that efforts by Washington to deter Pyongyang’s nuclear development were a “daydream” and would only serve to dash any hope of diplomatic negotiations.
“The U.S. should know that its bolstered extended deterrence system and excessively extended military alliance system … will only make the DPRK go farther away from the negotiating table desired by it,” she said in a statement carried by state-run Korean Central News Agency.
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is the official name of North Korea.
Kim also repeated Pyongyang’s claims that the allies are responsible for raising tensions on the peninsula to a dangerous level.
“The present situation in the Korean Peninsula has reached such a phase that the possibility of an actual armed conflict and even the outbreak of a nuclear war is [being] debated,” she said.
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