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Pearl Harbor-based warships will beef up US forces in Western Pacific

A Filipino child waves as the guided-missile destroyer USS Halsey gets underway in Subic Bay, Philippines, on Oct. 17, 2010, after participating in a training exercise. The Halsey is deploying from its homeport at Pearl Harbor Oct. 16, 2017, to help beef up U.S. naval presence in the western Pacific.

THOMAS BRENNAN/U.S. NAVY

By WILLIAM COLE | The Honolulu Star-Advertiser (TNS) | Published: October 16, 2017

A sizable number of Pearl Harbor warships will be heading to the Western Pacific or are already in the region that’s being bulked up with Navy firepower amid an ongoing showdown with North Korea.

The Pearl Harbor guided missile destroyers USS Preble and USS Halsey will leave Monday to join the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, which left San Diego on Oct. 6, the Navy said.

The planned deployment by 7,500 sailors and Marines in the strike group to the Western Pacific and Middle East has led to speculation whether the ship grouping will operate in the vicinity of the Korean Peninsula, where the Japan-based aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan will conduct an exercise with South Korea from Monday through Oct. 26.

The Maritime Counter Special Operations Exercise in the Yellow Sea and Sea of Japan (or East Sea, to the Koreans) involving the Reagan will be held “to promote communications, interoperability and partnership,” the Navy said. The arrival of a second carrier and its strike group ships would create a significant level of firepower with aircraft and Tomahawk cruise missiles.

The Halsey said on its Facebook page that it “has been preparing from sunup to sundown” for the upcoming deployment and had loaded more than 600 5-inch rounds and more than 25,000 rounds of small-arms ammunition.

The Pearl Harbor-based submarine USS Tucson and its crew of about 150 arrived at Chinhae in South Korea on Oct. 7, with the Navy saying the Tucson’s crew “operates with a high state of readiness and is always prepared to tackle any mission that comes their way.” The Tucson has 12 vertical launch tubes for Tomahawk cruise missiles.

Another submarine, the big Ohio-class USS Michigan, which is more than 560 feet long and can carry 154 Tomahawks, pulled into Busan in South Korea on Friday.

A release put out by the Navy noted that the Ohio-class guided missile submarines “provide the Navy with unprecedented strike and special operation mission capabilities from a stealthy, clandestine platform.”

Submarine missions are classified and go unnoticed by design, and the Pentagon sometimes uses port announcements to send a message to adversaries that the undersea stealth capability is operating largely unseen in the region.

North Korea on Friday reacted to the buildup by again threatening to fire ballistic missiles near Guam.

On the same day, President Donald Trump said, “We’re going to see what happens with North Korea,” adding that the United States is “totally prepared for numerous things.”

“I will say, look, if something can happen where we negotiate, I’m always open to that. But if it’s going to be something other than negotiation, believe me, we are ready, more so than we have ever been,” he said.

The Pearl Harbor destroyer Hopper and its crew of nearly 330 deployed Sept. 28 for an independent deployment to the Western Pacific and Middle East, and the Hawaii-based destroyer USS Chafee was recently operating in the South China Sea.

Additionally, Navy Times reported that the Hawaii-­­based destroyer USS O’Kane will deploy to the Western Pacific to help fill a gap in ballistic missile defense ships left by separate collisions that damaged the USS John S. McCain and USS Fitzgerald.

©2017 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
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