As the U.S. Navy's Carl Vinson Carrier Strike Group approaches the Korean Peninsula in coming days, the head of U.S. Pacific Command had this to say about the prospect of incoming ballistic missiles from North Korea: "If it flies, it will die."
Testifying to the House Armed Services Committee Wednesday, Adm. Harry Harris countered recent reports from media outlets including Bloomberg that the Vinson and its escort ships, the guided-missile destroyers Wayne E. Meyer and Michael Murphy and guided-missile cruiser Lake Champlain, were not equipped to fend off a North Korean missile attack.
Amid mounting tensions and American shows of strength North Korea has threatened to sink the Vinson and turn it into a "sea wreck," spreading the message through state propaganda channels.
Bloomberg reported that the Meyer and the Murphy were not equipped with the Aegis surveillance system designed to track long-range missiles or SM-3 interceptors that can target and destroy medium and long-range missiles. While the strike group escorts carry Tomahawk missiles and anti-ship cruise missiles and the carrier has aircraft capable of jamming radar and executing air strikes, the outlet reported, it remained vulnerable to a ballistic missile attack.
"I believe that article and articles like that are both misleading, and they conflate apples and oranges, if you will," Harris said. "We have ballistic missile ships in the Sea of Japan that are capable of defending against ballistic attacks."
Harris did not say which ships in the region possessed this capability. Also recently deployed to the Pacific are the destroyers Sterrett and Dewey, though these ships, like the Wayne E. Meyer and Michael Murphy, are not yet equipped for Aegis ballistic missile defense. But there are five destroyers homeported in Japan and currently located there that are equipped with the capability.
Moreover, Harris said, North Korea did not have a ballistic anti-ship missile at its disposal that was capable of threatening the Vinson or the ships in its strike group.
"The weapons that North Korea would put against the Carl Vinson strike group are easily defended by the capabilities resident in that strike group," he said. "If it flies, it will die, if it's flying against the [group.] So I'm confident in that strike group's ability to not only defend itself but to project power if that is the call we receive from the president and the secretary of defense."