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CNO: Bigger Navy, upgraded ships needed for ‘unprecedented’ N. Korean threat

Kim Jong Un (Balkis Press/Abaca Press/TNS)

A bigger, more networked Navy equipped with the latest weapons systems is needed to deal with security threats like North Korea, the Navy’s top officer told sailors during a recent all-hands call in Japan.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson visited sailors aboard the USS Ronald Reagan at Yokosuka Naval Base Tuesday, wrapping up a tour that included visits to Hawaii, South Korea and other bases in Japan.

The threat from North Korea — which has conducted a pair of underground nuclear tests and fired more than 20 missiles so far this year — was a popular topic as Richardson answered sailors’ questions.

“This is an unprecedented and urgent threat we are seeing from North Korea,” he said, adding that the region’s security situation has worsened over the past five years. “The approach to addressing that right now is primarily through a diplomatic- and economic-pressure campaign. The backstop to that has got to be a firm set of military options.”

North Korea recently declared it has achieved its long-sought goal of becoming a nuclear power after testing a powerful new weapon it claims can hit any point in the United States. The intercontinental ballistic missile, which was fired at a steep angle from an area north of Pyongyang, flew for more than 50 minutes. It traveled nearly 600 miles and reached an altitude of up to 2,800 miles before crashing into the sea off the coast of Japan, military officials said.

Richardson met Monday with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera. Japanese media outlet Kyodo News reported that Onodera told Richardson that naval forces from both countries would be needed to counter North Korean threats.

“We cannot tolerate repeated provocative acts by North Korea,” Onodera said. “It is necessary for the [Japan] Maritime Self-Defense Force and the U.S. Navy to cooperate with each other.”

Last month, JMSDF ships participated in a rare Navy tri-carrier exercise off the Korean Peninsula that involved the Ronald Reagan, USS Nimitz and USS Theodore Roosevelt strike groups.

Richardson said the service is undertaking several key steps to increase naval power, including building more ships. The Navy has a long-term goal of expanding to about 350,000 sailors to meet a 355-ship goal set by President Donald Trump. The service now has about 322,000 sailors and 277 commissioned vessels.

“Increasing the number of platforms is a very important part of naval power,” he said. “The [National Defense Authorization Act for 2018] talks about 355 ships as the target and we’re going to do everything we can to get there. There is a near unanimous consensus that we need more naval power than we have now.”

Richardson added that he wants to expand the capabilities of ships as well; with better networking between weapon systems, aircraft, ships and sensors. He also said the service is exploring newer weapons systems to make ships more lethal.

“We are looking at a lot of different systems that we can put on those ships to make them more deadly, more capable, more lethal against our enemies,” he said. “Things like directed energy. Things like high-powered microwave … a lot of systems that are right around the corner.”

The Navy’s position as the region’s premier naval power is being challenged, Richardson said.

“We go out and every single day earn our position as the world’s best Navy,” he said. “They’re not going to hand that to us.”


© 2017 the Stars and Stripes

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