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U.S. Navy chief vows to counter N. Korea provocations

All Headlines 16:13 December 09, 2014

By Oh Seok-min

SEOUL, Dec. 9 (Yonhap) -- The United States will continue to beef up its naval capabilities in the Pacific region in order to deter North Korea's provocations including its ballistic missile threats, the U.S. Navy chief said Tuesday.

The pledge by U.S. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus comes amid growing concerns over the North's evolving missile threats. In late October, Pyongyang reportedly conducted a test of an ejection launcher that helps fire missiles from submarines in an indication that it is making headway in its efforts to develop a submarine-based ballistic missile.

"The concerns are that the North will take some provocative actions that will allow the situation to get out of control," Mabus told reporters in Seoul.

He arrived here on Sunday for a four-day visit during which he met Seoul's Defense Minister Han Min-koo and the chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, Adm. Choi Yun-hee, among others, to discuss issues of mutual concern.

Stressing that "any sort of ballistic missile threat or capability of North Korea is potentially very dangerous," the secretary said the very threats led the U.S. to have been pushing for a rebalance toward the Pacific region.

"One of the things I am proud of in my time as secretary is that we are growing our fleet. We are growing not only the numbers but capabilities of our fleet," said Mabus, who has led America's Navy and Marine Corps since 2009.
<YNAPHOTO path='C:/YNA/YNACLI~1/Down/Article/AEN20141209006500315_01_i.jpg' id='' title='' caption='U.S. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus (R). (Yonhap file photo)'/>

Noting that some 60 percent of the 70 ships ordered by the U.S. Navy over the past five years will be sent to the Pacific, including "the most modern platforms" such as ballistic missile defense destroyers, littoral combat ships and an amphibious ready group, he said the U.S. will be a fleet of more than 300 ships by the end of this decade.

"There will be more ships to be in this region to do exercise to hopefully deter any sort of actions and to make sure that we are ready for working with the Republic of Korea (ROK)," he said, using South Korea's official name.

As ways to counter ballistic missile threats from Pyongyang, he said the U.S. maintains interoperability with the South Korean military in terms of detecting and tracking the missile launches by adopting the same Aegis combat systems and carries out "the very intensive regiment of exercises."

While refusing to confirm media reports on North Korea's recent launch of a new submarine capable of firing ballistic missiles, Mabus stressed a growing importance of the maritime domain and called for "the ability to meet whatever threats, whatever occasions comes over the horizon."

North Korea has ratcheted up tensions on the Korean Peninsula by continuing its provocative actions along the border regions. With the de facto inter-Korean maritime border, known as the Northern Limit Line (NLL), being a power keg, the two Koreas briefly exchanged fire in October as a boat from the North violated the NLL in the latest incident.

Last month, Seoul sources also said North Korea is believed to have completed construction of the new submarine after importing a Soviet-era Golf-class diesel submarine and reverse-engineering it.

He also stressed the trilateral cooperation among South Korea, the U.S. and Japan despite some diplomatic tensions between Seoul and Tokyo over historical rows.

"The common threat to the ROK, Japan and the U.S. is so serious and so close, that danger and response to it would be the thing that would override everything else," Mabus said.

"We've seen evidences of close working trilateral relationships ... It is important to build those relationships and do those exercises and when crises occur, that is the thing that takes precedence."

graceoh@yna.co.kr
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