The US will send Ohio-class submarines with Trident II ballistic missiles and nuclear warheads with a launch range of up to 12,000 km to the Republic of Korea
The day before, we wrote about the "Washington Declaration" signed by the leaders of the US and the Republic of Korea. The agreement envisages the US Navy sending nuclear-powered submarines to South Korea for the first time in 40 years. At the press conference, the presidents did not specify which submarines they were talking about. However, Reuters reports that the US Navy will send Ohio-class submarines with ballistic missiles to the Korean peninsula.
Here's What We Know
A US nuclear-powered submarine carrying ballistic missiles was last in the Republic of Korea in the 1980s. The new visit will be a demonstration of Washington's determination to protect the ally from an attack by the DPRK, which has recently been actively launching ballistic missiles towards its southern neighbour and Japan.
Because US Ohio-class strategic missile cruisers rely on secrecy and stealth to maintain their ability to launch nuclear missiles in time of war, they rarely make public stops at foreign ports. The U.S. usually does not disclose where the submarines are located.
The US Navy has 18 Ohio-class submarines in service. Four of them carry Tomahawk cruise missiles (up to 154): USS Ohio (SSGN-726), USS Michigan (SSGN-727), USS Florida (SSGN-728) and USS Georgia (SSGN-729).
Another 14 submarines are strategic missile cruisers equipped with Trident II (D5) ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads:
- USS Henry M. Jackson (SSBN-730);
- USS Alabama (SSBN-731);
- USS Alaska (SSBN-732);
- USS Nevada (SSBN-733);
- USS Tennessee (SSBN-734);
- USS Pennsylvania (SSBN-735);
- USS West Virginia (SSBN-736);
- USS Kentucky (SSBN-737);
- USS Maryland (SSBN-738);
- USS Nebraska (SSBN-739);
- USS Rhode Island (SSBN-740);
- USS Maine (SSBN-741);
- USS Wyoming (SSBN-742);
- USS Louisiana (SSBN-743).
A total of up to 20 Trident II (D5) ballistic missiles can be mounted on board. Each is capable of delivering up to eight nuclear warheads. The maximum launch range of the missiles is 12,000 km.
In the 1970s, Ohio-class missile cruisers visited ports in the Republic of Korea several times a month when there were hundreds of American nuclear warheads. The visits ceased in 1981.
A senior US official said on condition of anonymity that sending Ohio-class submarines to the Republic of Korea would be part of more frequent transfers of strategic assets to the peninsula. However, there is now no idea of any regular deployment or basing of nuclear weapons in South Korea.