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Carrier Strike Group Sails Toward Korea After North's Missile Test

Ships assigned to the Carl Vinson (CVN 70) Carrier Strike Group steam off the coast of southern California on Aug. 7, 2016, in the Pacific Ocean. (U.S. Navy photo/Daniel P. Jackson Norgart)
Ships assigned to the Carl Vinson (CVN 70) Carrier Strike Group steam off the coast of southern California on Aug. 7, 2016, in the Pacific Ocean. (U.S. Navy photo/Daniel P. Jackson Norgart)

The U.S. Navy's Carl Vinson carrier strike group has been ordered to cancel planned port visits in Australia and move to the Western Pacific, just four days after the rogue state of North Korea test-fired a ballistic missile from its eastern coast.

Officials with U.S. Third Fleet announced Saturday night that the San Diego-based strike group, which just completed a four-day port visit in Singapore, will now sail north and "report on station" in the Western Pacific. Multiple outlets reported that the ships would be positioned off the Korean peninsula.

"U.S. Pacific Command ordered the Carl Vinson Strike Group north as a prudent measure to maintain readiness and presence in the Western Pacific," Cmdr. David Benham, a spokesman for PACOM, told Military.com in a statement.

"Third Fleet ships operate forward with a purpose: to safeguard U.S. interests in the Western Pacific. The number one threat in the region continues to be North Korea, due to its reckless, irresponsible, and destabilizing program of missile tests and pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability," he said.

The carrier Vinson, the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers Wayne E. Meyer and Michael Murphy, and the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser Lake Champlain were all ordered to the Western Pacific, according to the Third Fleet announcement.

The strike group deployed in January and has spent much of its deployment in that region, participating in bilateral exercises with the Japanese and South Korean militaries as well as patrols in the South China sea.

U.S. officials initially said North Korea's April 4 test was of a Pukguksong-2, or KN-15, medium-range ballistic missile, a solid-fueled ballistic weapon with an estimated operational range of up to 800 miles. North Korea first tested the missile in mid-February, firing it 310 miles into the Sea of Japan in what the country hailed as a successful launch.

But Reuters cited White House sources who said the April 4 launch was of a liquid-fueled Scud missile, which has a much shorter range.

The most recent test came just before President Donald Trump's meeting with Chinese President Xi Jingping at Trump's Mar-A-Lago resort in Florida April 6 and 7. Ahead of the meeting, Trump delivered a stern warning to both China and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, telling the Financial Times in an interview that the U.S. was willing to act unilaterally to counter North Korean aggression if necessary.

"China has great influence over North Korea," Trump said in the published interview. "And China will either decide to help us with North Korea, or they won't. And if they do that will be very good for China, and if they don't it won't be good for anyone."

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has also made comments that seem to indicate a showdown with North Korea is in the offing. On March 17, during a trip to Seoul, South Korea, he rejected the prospect of negotiations with the country over its missile program, saying the U.S. "policy of strategic patience had ended."

Following the recent North Korean missile test launch, Tillerson released a bizarrely blunt 23-word statement, seemingly indicating an unwillingness to discuss the country's missile activities any further.

"North Korea launched yet another intermediate-range ballistic missile," he said in the statement. "The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment."

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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