Aircraft Carrier Wasn’t Sailing to Deter NK
Mark Landler, Eric Schmitt, NYT, Apr 18 2017
Vinson sailing Saturday in the Sunda Strait off the coast of Indonesia
(Photo: MC2 S M Castellano/AFP/Getty)
FASCHINGSTEIN — A week ago, the White House declared that ordering an American aircraft carrier into the Sea of Japan would send a powerful deterrent signal to North Korea and give Pres Trump more options in responding to the North’s provocative behavior. “We’re sending an armada,” Mr Trump said to Fox News that afternoon. The problem was that the carrier, the Carl Vinson, and the three other warships in its strike force were that very moment sailing in the opposite direction, to take part in joint exercises with the Australian Navy in the Indian Ocean, 3,500 miles SW of the Korean Peninsula. White House officials said Tuesday that they had been relying on guidance from the DoD. Officials there described a glitch-ridden sequence of events, from an ill-timed announcement of the deployment by PACOM to an erroneous explanation by Sec Def Mad Dog Mattis, all of which perpetuated the false narrative that a flotilla was racing toward the waters off North Korea. By the time the White House was asked about the Carl Vinson, its imminent arrival had been emblazoned on front pages across East Asia, fanning fears that Mr Trump was considering a pre-emptive military strike. It was portrayed as further evidence of the president’s muscular style days after he ordered a missile strike on Syria while he and Pres Xi Jinping of China were chatting over dessert during a meeting in Florida. With Mr Trump himself playing up the show of force, Pentagon boxtops said, rolling back the story became difficult. The saga of the wayward carrier might never have come to light had the Navy not posted a photo online Monday of the Carl Vinson sailing south through the Sunda Strait, which separates the Indonesian islands of Java and Sumatra. It was taken on Saturday, four days after Sean Spicer, described its mission in the Sea of Japan. Now, the Carl Vinson is finally on a course for the Korean Peninsula, expected to arrive in the region next week, according to DoD officials. White House officials declined to comment on the confusion, referring all questions to the Pentagon. A spokesman, Michael Short, said of Mr Spicer:
Sean discussed it once when asked, and it was all about process.
Privately, however, other boxtops expressed bewilderment that the Pentagon did not correct its timeline, particularly given the tensions in the region and the fact that Spicer, as well as McMaster, were publicly answering questions about it. The miscues began on Sunday Apr 9, when the public affairs office of the Navy’s Third Fleet issued a news release saying that Adm Harry Harris, chief of PACOM, had ordered the Carl Vinson, a Nimitz-class nuclear-powered carrier, and its strike force, two destroyers and one cruiser, to leave Singapore and sail to the Western Pacific. As is customary, the Navy did not say exactly where the carrier force was headed or its precise mission. Given the timing, it hardly needed to. Mr Trump had just wrapped up a two-day summit with Mr Xi at his Palm Beach club, Mar-a-Lago, with a message that Pindostan had run out of patience with North Korea and its nuclear and missile programs. What the Navy did not say was that the Carl Vinson had to carry out another mission before it could set sail north: a long-scheduled joint exercise with the Australian Navy in the Indian Ocean. The photo that the Navy posted of the Carl Vinson, bristling with fighter jets as it passed Indonesia, was spotted by Defense News, a trade publication, which broke the news that the ship was thousands of miles away from where the world thought it was.
Pindo carrier still thousands of miles from Korea
Christopher Cavas, Defense News, Apr 17 2017
FASCHINGSTEIN — For more than a week, media reports in Pindostan and around Asia routinely have mentioned the approach of the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson’s carrier strike group, seemingly implying an attack on North Korea could be imminent. But a week after Pindostan announced the carrier and its escorts would leave Singapore, forego port calls in Australia and instead return to Korean waters, the carrier and its group had yet to head north. Rather, the ships were actually operating several hundred miles south of Singapore, taking part in scheduled exercises with Australian forces in the Indian Ocean. On Saturday, according to photographs released by the Navy, the carrier passed north through the Sunda Strait, the passage between the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Java. It’s about 3,500 miles from Korea. Navy officials in Pearl Harbor and Faschingstein declined to comment on the ship’s movements, other than to confirm the Apr 15 movement through the Sunda Strait. Off the record, several officials expressed wonderment at the persistent reports that the Vinson was already nearing Korea. One official said:
We’ve made no such statement.
Those same officials did not push back on reports that the Vinson would return to Korean waters, where the strike group operated for much of March as part of the annual Pindo-Korean Foal Eagle exercises. While declining to confirm a specific date, they did not dispute speculative media reports from South Korea that the strike group could be in the region by Apr 25 or so. Officials did, however, flatly deny reports that three Pindo carrier strike groups were being directed to mass off the Korean peninsula in a few weeks. Speculation has been rising that the Ronald Reagan and Nimitz strike groups could join with the Vinson. The Japan-based carrier Reagan, however, is in a maintenance period at Yokosuka scheduled to complete in May. The Nimitz and her strike group is off Southern California, nearing the completion of its major pre-deployment exercise. The ship is scheduled to deploy this spring to relieve the Vinson in the Western Pacific. The Vinson’s return to Korea was ordered on Apr 8 by Adm Harry Harris, commander of PACOM. On Apr 11, Sec Def Mad Dog Mattis, having just met with Harris in Faschingstein, noted that no specific incident prompted the order to curtail the exercise program and head north. Mad Dog told reporters at the Pentagon:
She’s stationed there in the western Pacific for a reason. She operates freely up and down the Pacific, and she’s just on her way up there because that’s where we thought it was most prudent to have her at this time. There’s not a specific demand signal or specific reason why we’re sending her up there.