A U.S. Ohio-class guided missile submarine (SSGN), the USS Michigan, is reportedly underway to the Korean peninsula. According to multiple reports in the South Korean press, including Yonhap news agency, the USS Michigan is en route to the South Korean port of Busan and is slated for arrival on Tuesday. The USS Michigan last visited Busan in 2015.
The deployment comes as tensions with North Korea remain high and as Pyongyang celebrates the 85th anniversary of the Korean People’s Army on Tuesday. U.S. analysts have anticipated that North Korea may choose to carry out its sixth underground nuclear test on or around this date after demonstrating several new missile systems and configurations at a military parade on April 15, the anniversary of the birth of the country’s founder, Kim Il-sung.
The USS Michigan‘s deployment has not officially been confirmed by the U.S. Navy or by Pacific Command. The United States does not normally comment on the movements of its submarines.
Lieutenant Commander Matt Knight, a U.S. Pacific Fleet spokesperson told The Diplomat that the USS Michigan will not be joining the strike group and is “on an independent deployment” currently. “As a matter of routine, we do not discuss future operations or the details regarding the operations of our submarines. USS Michigan is currently on a routine deployment to the Indo-Asia-Pacific,” the spokesperson added.
A U.S. carrier strike group is also underway to the Korean peninsula. The USS Carl Vinson strike group, following exercises in the Philippine Sea with Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force vessels, will travel north to the Korean peninsula.
Recently, erroneous and ambiguous statements by U.S. President Donald J. Trump and other senior officials led to widespread mis-reporting that the Vinson strike group was heading to the Korean peninsula as early as the second week of April.
Trump, in an April 11 interview, suggested that the U.S. was sending an “armada” to the Korean peninsula. His remarks gave the impression that the Vinson strike group was the “armada” in question and was already on its way north.
In that same interview, Trump made a remark about submarines: “We have submarines, very powerful, far more powerful than the aircraft carrier. That I can tell you.” That statement did not directly follow with what was publicly stated by U.S. officials or by U.S. Pacific Command, which released a press statement noting the cancellation of a port visit for the Vinson in Australia.
Defense News‘ Christopher P. Cavas reports that U.S. officials have confirmed that the USS Michigan is “currently on a routine deployment to the Indo-Asia-Pacific.” Sending the submarine to the Korean peninsula could be an act of signaling by the administration, which is no doubt wary after the South Korean press reacted indignantly to the communications mishap with the Vinson strike group earlier this month.
Ohio-class SSGNs like the USS Michigan can deliver a maximum of 154 Tomahawak land-attack cruise missiles in their converted ballistic missile tubes. The U.S. SSGNs are also designed to enable the covert insertion of special operators.
Update: U.S. Naval Forces Korea has confirmed that the USS Michigan arrived in Busan on Tuesday, April 25, for a “routine visit.”