The Pentagon has denied reports that it is sending a third aircraft carrier to the Western Pacific as a show of force to deter North Korea's ballistic missile and nuclear programs.
Sources told VOA and Japan's Asahi Shimbun Saturday that the USS Nimitz, one of the world’s largest warships, would join two other supercarriers, the USS Carl Vinson and the USS Ronald Reagan, in the western Pacific to send a signal to North Korea.
But on Tuesday, the Defense Department denied that the Nimitz deployment is anything but routine.
"U.S. Navy carrier strike groups routinely deploy to the Western Pacific and the Indian Ocean. [The] USS Carl Vinson, USS Ronald Reagan and USS Nimitz deployments are all part of a previously planned and detailed maintenance, training and deployment cycle, and not in response to any specific incident or regional events. It is not uncommon for carrier strike groups to overlap in a region as one begins a deployment and the other concludes."
“We don’t expect all three to be in the Western Pacific at the same time” but “we are ultimately flexible,” a Navy official told VOA.
The movements of the three carriers “are all previously planned,” said Navy Lt. Commander Matt Knight of the U.S. Pacific Fleet Public Affairs Office
North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile threat is seen as a major security challenge for President Donald Trump, who has vowed to prevent that country from being able to strike the U.S. with a nuclear missile, a capability that experts say Pyongyang could have some time after 2020.
The Nimitz deployment is set to begin on Thursday.
The Carl Vinson strike group, which is part of the U.S. 3rd Fleet, began its regularly scheduled deployment to the Western Pacific January 5. The Ronald Reagan strike group, which belongs to the 7th Fleet based in Japan, began its patrol in the Western Pacific on May 16.
VOA's White House correspondent Steve Herman contributed to this report.