Pentagon chief vows ‘best’ US weaponry to Asia
U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter promised Friday that the U.S. would deploy state of the art weaponry in Asia, including the latest stealth bombers and cyber warfare units, to counter threats posed by the likes of North Korea.
“Our newest and best things are being deployed to this part of the world,” Carter said in Seoul — the second leg of a visit to the two key U.S. military allies in the region, Japan and South Korea.
The Pentagon chief said his talks with South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-koo had included a “candid assessment” of the threat posed to the Korean peninsula — “and the U.S. homeland” — by North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile program.
“As it demonstrated once again with the recent missile launches, North Korea is intent on continued provocation,” he told reporters.
The North fired two surfaceto- air missiles off its west coast on Tuesday, just as Carter arrived in Japan on the first leg of his tour.
Earlier, it had test fired a series of short range ballistic missiles to express its anger with annual South Korean-U.S. military exercises which Pyongyang condemns as rehearsals for invasion.
The United States has close to 30,000 troops permanently stationed in South Korea and would assume operational command of both armed forces in the event of a conflict with the North.
The two Koreas remain technically at war because the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended with a cease-fire rather than a peace treaty.
Stressing that military deterrence and readiness were “at a premium” on the divided peninsula, Carter said the U.S. was investing in “advanced capabilities ... tailored to this dynamic security environment.”
Asked to expand, he cited new stealth bombers, F- 35 stealth fighters and highly developed cyber warfare systems that could be rotationally deployed in the Asian theatre.
North Korea has an advanced cyber warfare capability which it has wielded in damaging hacking assaults on South Korean financial institutions.
The FBI has accused the North of being behind a devastating cyber attack on Sony Pictures, the studio behind the Hollywood film “The Interview” — a comedy about a fictional plot to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
At the same time, he said his talks in Seoul had not touched on the sensitive issue of a missile defense system, known as THAAD, that Washington is looking to deploy in South Korea.
China and Russia are both vocally opposed to the THAAD deployment, warning that it would undermine regional peace and stability.
It’s a tricky issue for Seoul which must weigh the priorities of its most important military ally, the U.S., against its largest trade partner, China.
Carter insisted THAAD was not discussed in Seoul because the system was still in production.
“We’re not at the point yet where we would begin discussing its deployment with anybody,” he said.
U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, center, and his South Korean counterpart Han Min-koo, left, are briefed as they look around the wreckage of the South Korean naval vessel Cheonan, that sank and killed 46 sailors onboard in 2010 near the maritime border with North Korea, at a naval base in Pyeongtaek, 70 kilometers (44 miles) south of Seoul, Friday, April 10.