SEOUL – A US Navy nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) will visit South Korea for the first time since the 1980s to underscore Washington’s resolve to safeguard the country from a North Korean attack.
The visit was confirmed in a joint proclamation during a summit in Washington on Wednesday between South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and US President Joe Biden.

Because US SSBNs rely on secrecy and stealth to secure their survivability and capacity to deploy nuclear missiles during a war, they rarely dock in foreign ports in public.

“That could be a huge pressure on North Korea, because they usually don’t share where those submarines are,” said Moon Keun-sik, a retired South Korean submarine captain and squadron leader.

The US has committed to send more “strategic assets” to South Korea, such as aircraft carriers, submarines, and long-range bombers, to prevent North Korea, which has built increasingly powerful missiles capable of hitting sites from South Korea to the mainland US.

The submarine visit is also considered as a tactic to reassure South Korea and put an end to speculation of creating domestic nuclear weapons in Seoul.

“If a US SSBN visits and docks in South Korea, that is very unusual and symbolic… the US wants to show it is going for stronger deterrence in a visible way and to calm South Koreans’ concerns,” said Choi Il, a retired South Korean submarine commander.

Pyongyang has blasted the recent deployment of US aircraft carriers and joint military drills between South Korea and the US as evidence of the partners’ hostile intent.
The US Navy has 14 SSBNs, also known as “boomers.” Each of the Ohio-class submarines carries 20 Trident II D5 missiles capable of delivering up to eight nuclear bombs to targets up to 12,000 kilometers distant.

According to a Federation of American Scientists research, there were regular SSBN trips to South Korea in the 1970s, when South Korea was debating the strength of US commitments and the need for its own nuclear weapons.
“For a few years, the boomers arrived at a steady rate, almost every month, sometimes 2-3 visits per month,” stated Hans Kristensen, the report’s author. “Then, in 1981, the visits stopped, and the baby boomers haven’t been back since.”

There were no other specifics offered regarding the South Korea visit, but the declaration stated that it would demonstrate the US commitment to “further enhance the regular visibility of strategic assets to the Korean Peninsula.”

According to a senior US official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the visit would be part of more frequent travels to the peninsula by strategic assets, but there is “no vision for any regular stationing or basing of those assets, and certainly not nuclear weapons” in South Korea.



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