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The latest news on Defense from Business Insider

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    FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump pauses as he announces his decision that the United States will withdraw from the landmark Paris Climate Agreement, in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, U.S., June 1, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump's comment vowing to respond with "fire and fury" if North Korea further threatened the United States was "unplanned and spontaneous," a senior administration official who deals with the issue said on Wednesday.

    The comment was “all Trump,” said another administration official who, like the first, requested anonymity.

    At a Tuesday discussion on the opioid crisis, Trump said: "North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen."

    U.S. officials and analysts cautioned against engaging in rhetorical shouting matches with Pyongyang, which in turn said it was considering a strategy to fire missiles at the U.S.-held Pacific island of Guam.

    The senior administration official who deals with the North Korea issue told Reuters: “President Trump’s comment was unplanned and spontaneous.”

    “There had not been any discussions about escalating the rhetoric in response to North Korean leader Kim (Jong Un)’s statements or about the possible effects of doing that," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

    "Nevertheless, it is important for the North Koreans to understand that this country’s strategic patience is exhausted and that our resolve to defend our allies, whatever is required to do that, is not.”

    Privately two other U.S. officials, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said the president’s threat of “fire and fury” was not helpful and threatened to evoke an undesirable response from the North Korean leader.

    North Korea military parade

    It also risked alienating U.S. allies Japan and South Korea, as well as adversaries China and Russia, all of whom Washington wants to help pressure Kim to abandon his pursuit of a robust nuclear arsenal capable of striking the continental United States.

    On Wednesday, Trump appeared to temper his comments by expressing hope that the U.S. nuclear arsenal would never need to be used.

    SEE ALSO: MATTIS: North Korea should stop before it gets destroyed

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    Kim Jong Un inspects the intercontinental ballistic missile Hwasong-14. The North Korean leader said the test completed his country's strategic weapons capability that includes atomic and hydrogen bombs and ICBMs, the state KCNA news agency said.


    When Kim Jong Un challenged US President Donald Trump on Tuesday by threatening to launch missiles at Guam in response to Trump's promise of "fire and fury," a single word from Trump could have brought a healthy portion of the US's nuclear arsenal crashing down all over North Korea.

    But Trump didn't call for a strike, and he won't. Neither will Kim Jong Un. Both men will get acceptable outcomes without firing a shot.

    North Korea wants regime security and national power for its propaganda machines to celebrate. It has that.

    North Korea has maintained a formidable concentration of artillery pointed at the 26 million or so residents of Seoul, South Korea for decades, and it's deterred the US and provided the security they seek.

    It deterred the US from invading the North when it walked away from negotiations on its nuclear program, through its six nuclear tests, and even after it twice demonstrated a missile that could likely kill Americans on the US mainland.

    Four presidents of alternating parties have sat in the White House since the 1990s, looked to North Korea blazing a path towards nuclearization, and to some degree decided: "I can live with this." With each passing president, North Korea's deterrent grew stronger, and military action from the US less likely.

    The US publicly states that it wants stability on the Korean Peninsula and to contain the spread of nuclear weapons, and North Korea clearly denies them that.

    But the US has no effective political or military tools to achieve this goal. Those who push for preemptive strikes to promote stability in North Korea must now answer: "Preempt what? What stability?"

    North Korea has had missiles that can deliver nuclear weapons for some time. A recently leaked Defense Intelligence Agency report says it has 60 or so nuclear devices.

    Kim Jong Un

    The US's real goal is to bolster South Korean defenses and act like a tripwire force to make sure the North never invades the South. The North won't invade South Korea, because it undermines its first and biggest strategic goal —regime security.

    With South Korea and Japan firmly under the US's nuclear umbrella, threats from North Korea just drive the US closer to its two closest Asian allies and provides the US with considerable framework to contain China, the emerging power set to surpass the US by 2030

    The US's strong refusal to allowing North Korea to build nuclear weapons is not its final stance — it's an opening position in a tough negotiation, a US defense official who works at a high level of nuclear strategy told Business Insider.

    "You're never going to voluntarily back away from that. You're going to actively work to make sure they don't get" an ICBM, said the official. "The North Koreans having nukes is a bad thing, and we don't want it ... But if we lose that one, we survive it."

    The final resting point of the North Korean conflict is a fully nuclear capable Kim regime being deterred by superior US power. Just like Russia and China are deterred from attacking the US despite differences.

    USS Carl Vinson sh-60f sea hawk

    North Korea has wisely called the US's bluffs, and ignores threats of military action as it believes deeply in the credibility of its deterrent. 

    Most US presidents would chose to minimize the threat posed from North Korea, and to brush off its bombastic claims as propaganda depicting unlikely acts knowing they can ultimately live with a nuclear-armed North Korea. But Trump, embattled as in the press and in politics, may actually seek to highlight the threat from Pyongyang to present the US with a common enemy. 

    Small, conventional confrontations may happen. Unfortunately, we may see more Otto Warmbier situations come to pass, but even a tragic detention or death of a US citizen isn't worth launching a nuclear war over, when the millions in South Korea and Japan would likely take the brunt of the impact. 

    A full on nuclear exchange, as much of the world feared could pass on Tuesday, would more likely result from a miscalculation or accident than a US resolved to prevent North Korea's nuclearization.

    SEE ALSO: MATTIS: North Korea should stop before it gets destroyed

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    Kim Jong Un Missile

    North Korea's army released a statement Wednesday repeating and specifying its threat to launch nuclear-capable missiles near Guam, a US territory home to massive US Air Force and Navy bases.

    State media also responded directly to US President Donald Trump's threats, calling them "absolute nonsense" and saying "only absolute force can work on him."

    North Korea is "seriously examining the plan for an enveloping strike at Guam through simultaneous fire of four Hwasong-12 intermediate-range strategic ballistic rockets in order to interdict the enemy forces on major military bases on Guam and to signal a crucial warning to the US," according translation of the statement on South Korea's Yonhap News.

    The statement said it would fire four missiles that would fly over Japan before crashing down in the waters 18 to 25 miles from Guam, a more specific threat than what the Hermit kingdom had said Tuesday.

    The statement said it would complete plans for the launch by mid-August, at which point they would be submitted to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

    An attack like North Korea described in the statement would be incredibly risky, as the Hwasong-12 missile has only been tested once and has unpredictable performance and unreliable accuracy.

    The US fields the world's most advanced missile-defense system in Guam, but a large salvo of missiles could possibly overwhelm its defenses. 

    "We always maintain a high state of readiness and have the capabilities to counter any threat, to include those from North Korea," Lt. Col. Christopher Logan, a Pentagon spokesman, told Business Insider recently.

    The US military keeps a continuous presence of nuclear-capable bombers in Guam, which would make it an attractive target for a nuclear strike. North Korea specifically mentioned these bombers, "which get on the nerves of DPRK and threaten and blackmail it through their frequent visits to the sky above Korea," in its first threat Tuesday.

    B 52 over Guam

    Both Trump and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis warned in recent days that North Korea's provocations could lead to the state's destruction. 

    Mattis stressed in a statement Wednesday that the US and South Korea combined have "the most precise, rehearsed, and robust defensive and offensive capabilities on earth."

    On Tuesday, Trump said the US would respond to more North Korean threats with "fire and fury" unlike the world had ever seen. Trump boasted about the US nuclear arsenal Wednesday morning,  but he tweeted that "hopefully we will never have to use" nuclear weapons.

    SEE ALSO: CALM DOWN: We're not even close to nuclear war with North Korea

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    hwasong 14 north korea icbm

    It's clear North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is neither impressed nor deterred by recent displays of U.S. military might, so it's time to up the ante, says a retired American four-star commander.

    Rather than flying American bombers over the south, or firing missiles into the sea, the U.S. should target the next intercontinental ballistic missile North Korea launches, said retired Air Force Gen. Chuck Wald.

    "I would try to shoot one of their test missiles down instead of just firing missiles off the South Korean coast out there," Wald said in an interview with the Washington Examiner.

    This week, the U.S. and South Korea responded to North Korea's launch of a new intercontinental ballistic missile by firing a volley of short-range, precision missiles into the waters off South Korea's east coast.

    "I don't know what that does," said Wald, a former deputy head of U.S. European Command who retired in 2006. "It shows we can fire missiles, I guess."

    The Pentagon maintains the U.S. has the capability to shoot down a North Korean missile, but has not pulled the trigger so far because none of their tests have posed a threat to the U.S. or allies Japan and South Korea.

    "If you're talking about an ICBM, it's something we have confidence in," Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said Wednesday. "We just did a test last month, where we simulated a North Korean ICBM, and we shot it down over the Pacific Ocean.

    The head of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, Vice Adm. Jim Syring, told Congress last month the test was "an exact replica of the scenario that this country would face if North Korea were to fire a ballistic missile against the United States."

    A man and a child watch as the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) element of the U.S. ballistic missile defense system launches during a flight test from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, U.S., May 30, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

    Syring said the trajectory of the target was exactly the same as a missile fired from the Korean peninsula, and that in a real-world attack, the U.S. would fire multiple interceptors to increase the chance of destroying the incoming warhead in space.

    The Pentagon conceded the July 4 launch of what North Korea is calling its Hwasong-14 missile, while not a threat to Japan or South Korea, was a risk to commercial shipping and air traffic because Pyongyang issued none of the required notices of a live-fire exercise.

    Still no attempt was made to shoot it down, a decision that would be made by U.S. allies in the region, Davis said.

    "For missiles that could be threatening Japan or South Korea, those [decisions] are made by those countries with our input," Davis said. "We have systems that connect with theirs to be able to inform their decision very quickly."

    Wald, who directed strategic plans and policy for the Air Force, admits there are risks to shooting down one of Kim's missiles to get his attention.

    Kim Jong Un inspects the intercontinental ballistic missile Hwasong-14. The North Korean leader said the test completed his country's strategic weapons capability that includes atomic and hydrogen bombs and ICBMs, the state KCNA news agency said.


    "The danger there is if you miss it doesn't do much except encourage them to do more of it. But if you shoot it down, it gives them pause," Wald said.

    And he admits so far, the mercurial North Korean leader appears unfazed by even a credible show of force. "The problem you have with Kim going in is that he's unpredictable, and deterrence is based on reasonable predictability."

    That unpredictability poses another risk to the idea of mounting a more muscular response to the North's accelerating missile tests, namely the possibility of overreaction.

    While the U.S. would portray any future missile shootdown as a legitimate act of collective self-defense, Kim might see it as an act of war, tantamount to a strike against a missile on a launchpad on the ground, something U.S. military planners warn could be the spark that ignites an all-out war on the Korean Peninsula.

    "Depending on how risk-acceptant you are, you could launch a limited strike and hope the North Koreans won't retaliate," said Stephen Biddle, a professor who teaches military strategy at George Washington University. "And they might not."

    North Korea military parade

    Every military option has a risk calculus, Biddle said. The greater the threat, the more willing the Pentagon will be to use military force.

    Shooting down an unarmed missile that otherwise would likely fall harmlessly into the sea, is one thing. Detecting an imminent launch of a nuclear-armed ICBM would be another.

    "What you are doing is you are rolling the dice, and you are taking some risk that the North Koreans will retaliate in the hope that you eliminate a threat that otherwise would cost lots of Americans lives to be lost," Biddle said.

    At the Pentagon Thursday, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis tried to tamp down the talk of military action.

    "We stand ready to provide options if they are necessary," Mattis told reporters at an impromptu off-camera news conference. "But this is purely diplomatically-led, with economic sanctions and buttressed by the military position that we're taking right now."

    SEE ALSO: North Korea again threatens nuclear-capable missile strike near Guam, this time saying it will send 4 rockets

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    USS Chung-Hoon SM-2 missile

    North Korea again announced its intention to plan a missile test that would overfly Japan and land just short of Guam, but if the US and Japan wanted, they could most likely knock the missiles out of the sky.

    While experts say North Korea may not follow through with the test, it's still an incredibly dangerous prospect, as Pyongyang intends to shoot four unreliable missiles just a few dozen miles off the coast of Guam, a US territory where 7,000 military personnel and 160,000 civilians live.

    North Korea's Hwasong-12, the missile it said it would use, has only been successfully tested once. Mike Elleman, the senior fellow for missile defense at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told Business Insider that the missile is not yet reliable or accurate.

    Elleman expects the missile to be accurate only within 6 miles, but points out that even a small misstep during the firing process could lead to a wide miss. Also, the missiles would fly over Japan, which endangers aviation and huge civilian populations on the ground.

    Luckily, the US and Japan have tremendous missile defense capabilities, to include US and Japanese guided-missile destroyers, an Aegis rader missile defense site on Japan, and finally a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system in Guam. 

    "I think the first step is that the US and Japanese are going to sit down and say under what circumstances and in what likely destination for the missiles would we shoot them down" Rodger Baker, the lead analyst of Asia Pacific at Stratfor, a geopolitical consulting firm, told Business Insider.

    kim jong un

    Basically, if the North Korean test looks like its targeting an area that's too close for comfort, both states will coordinate a defense. If the missiles look headed for the ocean, the states may well look to let them fly past without incident.

    If the US and Japan decide the missiles pose a threat, then US and Japanese Navy ships equipped with Aegis radars, the best radar ever put to sea, will head out to optimal spots along the trajectory of the missiles, according to Baker.

    "THAAD and Aegis have the capacity to intercept the HS-12," Elleman told Business Insider. If the US  has two interceptors fired at each North Korean threat "the odds of success are good," said Elleman, who said the US has a 96% chance of downing each individual missile.


    But shooting down the North Korean missiles would pose a huge risk for potentially little reward. If US and Japanese interceptor missiles miss, and even one North Korean missile splashes down near Guam, missile defense has lost a huge amount of credibility and it looks like a big win for Pyongyang.

    As it stands, US and Japanese missile defenses almost exclusively work in test conditions. Real world combat is a different beast.

    The blow to US credibility would in fact be so great that the US and Japan may decide to let North Korea fire the missiles.

    SEE ALSO: North Korea probably couldn't nuke the US military in Guam even if it tried

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    North Korea

    Despite intense saber rattling between the US and North Korea, experts told Business Insider that all intelligence coming from the Hermit Kingdom indicates it's not getting ready for war and that doing so would be catastrophic for it.

    "Yes there's a lot of statements going back and forth that are escalating tensions, but in the real world on the ground in North Korea, and I suspect in South Korea, life goes on," Joel Wit, a senior fellow at US-Korea Institute who previously worked on North Korea policy at the State Department, said on a call with reporters organized by 38 North.

    Wit said satellite imagery of North Korea just wasn't showing the drumbeat of war playing out for normal citizens. Foreigners haven't fled. Workers haven't been pulled from factories, and even the media remains calm and focused on the economy.

    Additionally, though North Korean leader Kim Jong Un may posture as though he's ready to fight within hours, the timing is particularly difficult for him.

    "We're now entering the season in North Korea where we're going to see the starting of harvesting crops," Wit said. If North Korea had to go into defensive lockdown, he added, there would be a "serious impact on food collection, and then food distribution, then after that, food availability."

    So Kim faces what appears to be a relatively easy choice: initiate a conflict he is sure to lose, and let his people starve, or continue with business as usual while maintaining his usual brash propaganda.

    SEE ALSO: How the US and Japan could shoot down North Korean missiles headed for Guam

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    Kim Jong Un

    The CIA and Office of the Director of National Intelligence have joined the Defense Intelligence Agency in assessing that North Korea can now arm ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads, NBC reported Thursday.

    The technology to miniaturize nuclear devices so they can fit on top of ballistic missiles represents a major breakthrough necessary to have a credible nuclear arsenal, but the US intelligence community lagged behind other observers in making the assessment.

    In March 2016, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un posed in front of a silver ball that North Korean propaganda called a miniaturized nuclear warhead. North Korea has conducted five nuclear tests, and more than a dozen experts contacted by Business Insider have assessed it has the capability to miniaturize the devices.

    Now, the confirmation from the CIA and DNI indicates North Korea's nuclear capability is beyond questioning, as they represent more conservative intelligence agencies, said to Joel Wit, who previously worked at the State Department.

    "Typically my experience has been the DIA is more alarmist than other agencies," he said.

    Overall, the news "should not be taken as a surprise to anyone," he added.

    Another part of the DIA's leaked assessment, however, remains unverified. The DIA said North Korea may have up to 60 nuclear warheads ready to roll out on missiles. Wit said that number sits on the high end of the spectrum of expert estimates but is "not unreasonable."

    Wit said that at this rate, North Korea could possess 100 nuclear devices by 2020.

    The confirmation of worse-case scenarios for North Korea's missile program comes at a time when US President Donald Trump and the North Korean leader are trading intense threats. Trump has said the US would respond to North Korean provocations with "fire and fury," while North Korea has floated the idea of launching missiles at Guam. 

    SEE ALSO: North Korea is acting like it's ready for war, but Kim Jong Un's back is against the wall

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    Kim Jong Un

    When North Korea on Wednesday repeated its intention to plan a missile strike directed at Guam, its wording was filled with conditions and chances for the country to backpedal.

    "Make sure you understand that this is not the final decision," Robert Carlin, the former chief of the Northeast Asia Division at the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, told reporters on a call organized by 38 North, a website that brings together experts on North Korea.

    "This is a statement about a plan supposedly in process. There are firebreaks built into it. The plan is under consideration, then it's supposed to be handed to Kim Jong Un, then he'll make a decision," Carlin said.

    North Korea's bold threat includes "several places they can stop or give up," Carlin said.

    But when US President Donald Trump said the US would respond to the next North Korean threat with "fire and fury unlike the world has ever seen," he did not demonstrate similar forethought.

    Instead he promised to respond to the next provocation from North Korea with what many assumed to mean nuclear force. Just a few hours later, Pyongyang obliged him, and it issued a specific and disquieting threat.

    Carlin, as well as other North Korea experts on the call, agreed that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un would most likely decide against firing the missiles, as they're unreliable and present a large risk should they fail.

    But now Kim has publicly crossed Trump.

    Whether or not North Korea follows through with its threat, which is really just an announcement of the intention to create a plan to present to Kim, it has already dealt a severe blow to the US's credibility.

    SEE ALSO: North Korea is acting like it's ready for war, but Kim Jong Un's back is against the wall

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    U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks on opioid addiction and North Korea to reporters at Trump's golf estate in Bedminster, New Jersey, U.S., August 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

    President Donald Trump said on Thursday that his previous promise to respond to threats from North Korea with "fire and fury like the world has never seen" may not have been tough enough.

    Trump added that North Korea should "get their act together" or it would be in trouble "like few nations have ever been."

    "The people that were questioning that statement, was it too tough? Maybe it wasn't tough enough," Trump said outside his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey.

    "It's about time that somebody stuck up for the people of this country and for the people of other countries," Trump continued, later adding, "We're backed 100% by our military."

    Trump's initial threat was met hours later by North Korea announcing it would consider a missile strike directed at Guam, a US territory in the Pacific home to 7,000 US military personnel and 160,000 civilians. North Korea also dismissed Trump's "fire and fury" comment as "nonsense."

    "Well, I don't think they mean that," Trump said.

    Acknowledging the unprecedented nature of his threats against North Korea, Trump said, "It's the first time they heard it like they heard it."

    "If North Korea does anything in terms of even thinking about attack ... they can be very, very nervous," Trump said in response to a question about North Korea's threat. "Things will happen to them like they never thought possible."

    Trump also attacked the Clinton and Obama administrations for failing to halt North Korea's nuclear program.

    "The people of our country are safe," Trump said later. "Our allies are safe."

    FILE PHOTO - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects the long-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 (Mars-12) in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 15, 2017. KCNA via REUTERS/File photo

    He added that North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Un, had "been pushing the world around for a long time," alluding to his aggression in the Western Pacific.

    Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Wednesday said North Korea"should cease any consideration of actions that would lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people."

    North Korea has reasserted that it's considering shooting four missiles near Guam. Experts contacted by Business Insider said they found it unlikely that North Korea would launch such strikes — though they said the US had already suffered a blow to its credibility when Kim crossed Trump with his threat.

    SEE ALSO: Trump says North Korea will feel 'fire and fury like the world has never seen' if it continues threats

    Join the conversation about this story »

    NOW WATCH: Watch the US THAAD missile defense system strike a ballistic missile in a target test

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    Kim Jong Un Missile

    North Korea has been publicly mulling the idea of crafting a plan that would send four nuclear capable missiles at Guam, the US territory in the Pacific where over 160,000 live. 

    But this is no imminent warning. North Korea said that it was considering crafting a plan. It may then present that plan to Kim Jong Un. While he may decide to act on it, he's under no pressure or obligation to do so.

    In other words, the North Korean statement is packed with off ramps, or ways they can back down without directly contradicting itself. 

    Asked if North Korea's statement meant the country would nuke Guam on a press call from 38 North, Robert Carlin, the former chief of the Northeast Asia Division at the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, was unequivocal.

    "Certainly this statement doesn’t suggest anything like that," said Carlin. Carlin instead suggested North Korea was trying to make the US uncomfortable, as the US does to North Korea by flying strategic bombers nearby after a missile test.

    Carlin summarized the substance of North Korea's statement on Guam as saying "We’re going to put our missiles 25 or 30 kilometers offshore. Your bombers come within tens of kilometers of the Demilitarized Zone. If you can ‘reach out and touch’ us, we can ‘reach out and touch you.’"


    Joe Bermudez, an analyst at 38 North, pointed out that North Korea's Hwasong-12, the missile it mentioned in the statement, has only been tested four times, and only succeeded once. "This is not a good ratio or percentage of success to base a significant military operation upon," said Bermudez. 

    Simply put, North Korea's missile isn't good enough or reliable enough to actually fire towards Guam. The risk outweighs the reward, as North Korea wouldn't even get good data back on its reentry vehicles, something that has troubled it in the past. 

    At this point North Korea's Hwasong-12 is more useful rhetorically than practically. That said, crossing Trump by responding to his threat with one of its own could be seen as a win

    SEE ALSO: Kim Jong Un doesn't need to strike Guam — he's already won

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    donald trump

    President Donald Trump laid out parts of his strategy Thursday to make the US a military superpower, and to push back North Korea in the midst of a seemingly nuclear standoff. 

    "He has disrespected our country greatly, he has said things that are horrific," Trump said about North Korean leader Kim Jong Un after the country's announcement about a possible missile strike near Guam. "And with me, he's not getting away with it... it's a whole new ballgame."

    "I read about we’re in Guam by Aug. 15. Let’s see what he does with Guam. He does something in Guam, it will be an event the likes of which nobody’s seen before, what will happen in North Korea," said Trump. "You'll see, and he'll see. It's not a dare, it's a statement."

    Trump threatened North Korea on Tuesday with "fire and fury the likes of which the world has never seen," should they threaten the US again. Within hours, North Korea did just that, announcing its intentions to plot a missile test that would land near Guam, the US territory in the Pacific where the Air Force and Navy have a base. 

    So far, the president has not made good on his threat. 

    Trump later explained how he finds nuclear weapons to be the number one threat to the world.

    "I would like to ‘de-nuke’ the world," said Trump. "I would like Russia, the United States and China and Pakistan and many other countries that have nuclear weapons get rid of them. But until such time that they do, we will be the most powerful nuclear nation on earth, by far."

    b-1b lancer guam

    Trump has sole authority over the US's nuclear arsenal and could unilaterally decide to launch a nuclear attack on North Korea should he decide to.

    Experts contacted by Business Insider maintain that the North Korean statement announcing intentions to fire missiles at Guam was full of conditional statements and possibly a bluff.

    However, Trump has recently taken to threatening North Korea not over actions, but if they merely say it will attack the US.

    SEE ALSO: North Korea probably isn't going to launch missiles at Guam just yet

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    U.S. President Donald Trump awards the Medal of Honor to James McCloughan, who served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, during a ceremony at the White House in Washington, U.S. July 31, 2017.  REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

    Lost in the media's frantic coverage about the peaking North Korea crisis, a small, but very important detail escaped much of the US's notice that could be a window to peace between two feuding nuclear powers. 

    North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho stood before the ASEAN Regional Forum meeting and said the following: "We will, under no circumstances, put the nukes and ballistic rockets on the negotiating table. Neither shall we flinch even an inch from the road to bolstering up the nuclear forces chosen by ourselves."

    The Associated Press and Reuters reported on that statement, essentially spreading the news that North Korea will never abandon its belligerent tactics around the world. 

    But that's only half the statement, as Robert Carlin, the former chief of the Northeast Asia Division at the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, pointed out on 38 North

    Ri's full statement continues with a caveat, saying that North Korea won't halt its weapons programs, "unless the hostile policy and nuclear threat of the U.S. against the D.P.R.K. are fundamentally eliminated."

    This clause was completely ignored by the vast majority of US media, yet it offers the only chance for a peaceful solution. Bear in mind that Ri said this before Trump threatened nuclear "fire and fury," and his characterization of the US's "hostile policy" is steeped in propaganda. 

    The US and South Korea have a massive military exercise planned in late August, around when North Korea has threatened to fire missiles at Guam, the US territory in the Pacific with massive US Air Force and Navy bases.

    Continuous Bomber Presence guam andersen

    North Korea experts and diplomats have previously told Business Insider that Pyongyang may be willing to curb parts of its nuclear program in exchange for limitations on those exercises.

    The US routinely rejects these offers, which usually come from China, because the regularly scheduled, decades-old military exercise held by the US and South Korea are totally legal under international law, while North Korea's missile and nuclear tests are not.

    Yun Sun, a senior associate at the Stimson center and an expert on North Korea and China said that the US backing down from legal activities so North Korea would curb its illegal activities would amount to blackmail.

    But with the record-high tensions between the US and North Korea, perhaps the subject may be revisited.

    SEE ALSO: Kim Jong Un doesn't need to strike Guam — he's already won

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    NOW WATCH: Watch the US THAAD missile defense system strike a ballistic missile in a target test

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    Pukguksong-2 north korea missile

    President Donald Trump tweeted on Friday that "Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely. Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path!"

    Trump's statement echoes his defense secretary Jim Mattis, that the US and its ally South Korea have "the most precise, rehearsed, and robust defensive and offensive capabilities on earth." In response to North Korea announcing its intentions to possibly fire four nuclear-capable missiles towards the US territory of Guam, Mattis had a clear message: "Cease any consideration of actions that would lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people."

    Mattis himself admitted that that a fight with North Korea would be "more serious in terms of human suffering" than anything since the original Korean War ended in 1953 and "a war that fundamentally we don't want." 

    But as North Korea disregards international law, kills innocents, threatens the US and its neighbors with nuclear annihilation, and insists on unworkable terms for diplomacy, at some point the world's biggest military super power may have to step in.

    Business Insider spoke with Stratfor's Sim Tack, a senior analyst who is an expert on North Korea, to determine exactly how the US could carry out a crippling strike against the Hermit Kingdom.

    SEE ALSO: Here's how the US military is sticking it to Beijing in the South China Sea

    First, a decision would need to be made.

    Military action against North Korea wouldn't be pretty. Civilians in South Korea, and possibly Japan, and US forces stationed in the Pacific would be likely to die in the undertaking no matter how smoothly things went.

    In short, it's not a decision any US commander in chief would make lightly.

    But the US would have to choose between a full-scale destruction of North Korea's nuclear facilities and ground forces or a quicker attack on only the most important nuclear facilities. The second option would focus more on crippling North Korea's nuclear program and destroying key threats to the US and its allies.

    Since a full-scale attack could lead to "mission creep that could pull the US into a longterm conflict in East Asia," according to Tack of Stratfor, the US would most likely focus on a quick, surgical strike that would wipe out the bulk of North Korea's nuclear forces.

    But as North Korea may have up to 60 nuclear devices, the US would only ever consider such a strike if war seemed unavoidable, or Pyongyang's behavior intolerable. 

    Then, the opening salvo: A stealth air blitz and cruise missiles rock North Korea's nuclear facilities.

    The best tools the US could use against North Korea would be stealth aircraft like the F-22 and the B-2 bomber, Tack said.

    The US would gradually position submarines, Navy ships, and stealth aircraft at bases near North Korea in ways that avoid provoking the Hermit Kingdom's suspicions.

    Then, when the time is right, bombers would rip across the sky and ships would let loose with an awesome volley of firepower. The US already has considerable combat capability amassed in the region.

    "Suddenly you'd read on the news that the US has conducted these airstrikes," Tack said.

    Another bomber that would do heavy lifting above North Korea is the B-1 Lancer. Every time North Korea acts up with a missile test, the US responds by flying over the Korean Peninsula with this long-range, high-payload bomber. 

    The B-1 crews train with South Korean and Japanese fighters and can deliver massive 30,000-pound bombs on deep underground bunkers in North Korea — perfect for taking out Kim in an underground bunker.

    The first targets ...

    The initial targets would include nuclear reactors, missile-production facilities, and launching pads for intercontinental ballistic missiles, Tack said.

    Cruise missiles would pour in from the sea, F-22s would target North Korea's rudimentary air defenses, and B-2s would pound every known missile site.

    Planes like the F-35 and the F-22 would frantically hunt down mobile missile launchers, which can hide all over North Korea's mountainous terrain. In the event that North Korea does get off a missile, the US and South Korea have layered missile defenses that would attempt to shoot it out of the sky.

    Immediately civilians in Seoul would brace for shelling. Air and missile defenses would go on high alert, and the 30,000 US troops in South Korea would vacate their bases, which would be a prime target for missile strikes, and line the border to repel a flood of North Korean troops.

    See the rest of the story at Business Insider

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    After an intense exchange of threats and frightening implications between President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, the US and North Korea’s allies are staking out their positions in case of a conflict.

    Australia, a long-time US ally, has stated that it will invoke a mutual defense if the US is attacked by North Korea.

    "America stands by its allies, including Australia of course, and we stand by the United States," Malcolm Turnbull, told 3AW, an Australian radio station.

    "So be very, very clear on that. If there's an attack on the US, the ANZUS Treaty would be invoked and Australia would come to the aid of the United States, as America would come to our aid if we were attacked," Turnbull said, referencing a US-Australian mutual defense treaty. 

    Meanwhile, Japan's government is preparing to position Patriot Advanced Capability missile defense batteries along the route of a possible North Korean missile strike on Guam, according to Nikkei Asian Review. The US and Japan cooperate closely on defense, and Japanese ships support the US's Aegis missile defense systems at sea and on land.

    Together, the US and Japan could field a potent mix of missile defenses that an expert told Business Insider would have a .96 probability of knocking down a single North Korean missile.

    South Korea, often weary of US military deployments on its soil, has been considering an increase in US missile defenses while building bigger and better offensive weapons of its own.

    But in North Korea's corner, its main trading partner and treaty ally China, has sent a signal that it won't risk backing Pyongyang.

    North Korea military parade

    Although it does not speak directly for the Chinese government, the state-run Global Times is strictly censored to contain no commentary that the Chinese Communist Party disagrees with. On Friday, the newspaper ran an editorial saying"China should also make clear that if North Korea launches missiles that threaten US soil first and the US retaliates, China will stay neutral." 

    While the US under President Donald Trump has had some spats with leaders of Australia and South Korea, and his fiery rhetoric in recent days has turned heads, the deep alliances between the US, its Asian allies, and Australia remains ironclad in the face of possible nuclear war with North Korea.

    SEE ALSO: TRUMP: Military solutions are 'locked and loaded' if North Korea acts 'unwisely'

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    USS John S McCain

    The USS John McCain sailed past the Mischief Reef and the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea despite repeated warnings from a nearby Chinese frigate.

    The destroyer passed within 12 nautical miles of both land features, according to Reuters, in a "freedom of navigation operation" or FONOP, whereby the US shows China it doesn't respect its maritime claims in the South China Sea.

    The US carries out freedom of navigation operations all over the world, but only China during its massive land grab of artificial islands in territory claimed by six other nations, vocally protests.

    The Chinese frigate "called and said ‘Please turn around, you are in our waters,’” a US defense official told the Guardian.

    “We told them we are a US [ship] conducting routine operations in international waters,” the official continued.

    The US and China have worked together recently to crack down on North Korea, which continues to test nuclear missiles and maintains a hostile stance towards the US, South Korea and Japan.

    China's neighbors in the Pacific have feared that that the US's focus on North Korea may distract them from protecting freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, but a recent uptick in FONOPs from the US may quell that fear.

    map south china sea

    Under former President Obama, the US suspended FONOPs in the South China Sea for three years between 2012 and 2015, during which time Beijing made massive strides towards militarizing the area. After the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague ruled against Beijing's claims to the South China Sea, the US resumed FONOPs.

    Now, China has established undeniable "facts in the water" whereby it controls a vast military complex with burgeoning naval might. Recently, Vietnam discontinued plans to set up an offshore drilling rig in international waters because China told them to.

    Trump's new approach in the South China Sea has only just begun and is yet to bear out results, but US allies will likely take notice that the issue of North Korea has not completely sidelined this important struggle.

    SEE ALSO: US allies are stepping up to help with North Korea — and Kim Jong Un’s are backing down

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    WASHINGTON (AP) — Beyond the bluster, the Trump administration has been quietly engaged in back channel diplomacy with North Korea for several months, addressing Americans imprisoned in the communist country and deteriorating relations between the long-time foes, The Associated Press has learned.

    It had been known the two sides had discussions to secure the June release of an American university student. But it wasn't known until now that the contacts have continued, or that they have broached matters other than U.S. detainees.

    People familiar with the contacts say the interactions have done nothing thus far to quell tensions over North Korea's nuclear weapons and missile advances, which are now fueling fears of military confrontation.

    But they say the behind-the-scenes discussions could still be a foundation for more serious negotiation, including on North Korea's nuclear weapons, should President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un put aside the bellicose rhetoric of recent days and endorse a dialogue.

    The contacts are occurring regularly between Joseph Yun, the U.S. envoy for North Korea policy, and Pak Song Il, a senior North Korean diplomat at the country's U.N. mission, according to U.S. officials and others briefed on the process. They weren't authorized to discuss the confidential exchanges and spoke on condition of anonymity.

    Officials call it the "New York channel." Yun is the only U.S. diplomat in contact with any North Korean counterpart. The communications largely serve as a way to exchange messages, allowing Washington and Pyongyang to relay information.

    Drowned out by the furor over Trump's warning to North Korea of "fire and fury like the world has never seen," Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has expressed a willingness to entertain negotiations. His condition: Pyongyang stopping tests of missiles that can now potentially reach the U.S. mainland.

    Kim Jong Un inspects the intercontinental ballistic missile Hwasong-14. The North Korean leader said the test completed his country's strategic weapons capability that includes atomic and hydrogen bombs and ICBMs, the state KCNA news agency said.


    Tillerson has even hinted at an ongoing back channel. "We have other means of communication open to them, to certainly hear from them if they have a desire to want to talk," he said at an Asian security meeting in the Philippines this week.

    The interactions could point to a level of pragmatism in the Trump administration's approach to the North Korean threat, despite the president's dire warnings.

    On Friday, he tweeted: "Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely." But on Thursday, he said, "we'll always consider negotiations," even if they haven't worked in the last quarter-century.

    The contacts suggest Pyongyang, too, may be open to a negotiation even as it talks of launching missiles near the U.S. territory of Guam. The North regularly threatens nuclear strikes on the United States and its allies.

    The State Department didn't immediately comment on Yun's diplomacy. The White House also had no comment. A diplomat at North Korea's U.N. mission only confirmed use of diplomatic channel up to the release of U.S. college student Otto Warmbier two months ago.

    Otto Warmbier

    Trump, in some ways, has been more flexible in his approach to North Korea than President Barack Obama. While variations of the New York channel have been used on-and-off for years by past administrations, there were no discussions over the last seven months of Obama's presidency after Pyongyang broke them off in anger over U.S. sanctions imposed on its leader, Kim. Obama made little effort to reopen lines of communication.

    The contacts quickly restarted after Trump's inauguration, other people familiar with the discussions say.

    "Contrary to the public vitriol of the moment, the North Koreans were willing to reopen the New York channel following the election of President Trump and his administration signaled an openness to engage and 'talk about talks,'" said Keith Luse, executive director of the National Committee on North Korea, a U.S.-based group that promotes U.S.-North Korean engagement.

    "However, the massive trust deficit in Pyongyang and in Washington toward each other has impeded the confidence-building process necessary to have constructive dialogue," he said.

    The early U.S. focus was on securing the release of several Americans held in North Korea.

    otto warmbier releaseThey included Warmbier, who was imprisoned for stealing a propaganda poster and only allowed to return to the U.S. in June — in an unconscious state. He died days later. Yun traveled on the widely publicized mission to Pyongyang to bring Warmbier home.

    Despite outrage in the U.S. with Warmbier's treatment and sharp condemnation by Trump, the U.S.-North Korean interactions in New York continued.

    Yun and his counterpart have discussed the other Americans still being held. They include Kim Hak Song, a university employee detained in May accused of unspecified "hostile" acts; Tony Kim, a teacher at the same school, accused of trying to overthrow the government; and Kim Dong Chul, sentenced last year to a decade in prison with hard labor for supposed espionage.

    But the American and North Korean diplomats also have discussed the overall U.S.-North Korean relationship. The two countries have no diplomatic ties and are still enemies, having only reached an armistice — not a peace treaty — to end the 1950-1953 Korean War. Twenty-eight thousand U.S. troops are still stationed in South Korea.

    In its own convoluted way, North Korea has indicated openness to talks in recent weeks, even as it has accelerated the tempo of weapons tests.

    On July 4, after the North test-launched an intercontinental ballistic missile that could potentially strike the continental U.S., leader Kim added a new caveat to his refusal to negotiate over its nukes or missiles. Instead of a blanket rejection, he ruled out such concessions "unless the U.S. hostile policy and nuclear threat to the DPRK are definitely terminated."

    That message has been repeated by other North Korean officials, without greater specification. Nor have they offered an indication as to whether Pyongyang would accept denuclearization as the goal of talks.

    Still, advocates for diplomacy, including some voices in the U.S. government, view the addendum as a potential opening.

    "North Korea is assessing its options," said Susan DiMaggio, a senior fellow at the New America think tank who participated in unofficial talks with North Korean officials in Oslo in May that were also attended by Yun. "They recognize that at some point they have to return to the table to address what's becoming a crisis. That's what they are weighing right now: the timing of engagement."

    FILE PHOTO: North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un watches a military drill marking the 85th anniversary of the establishment of the Korean People's Army (KPA) in this handout photo by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) made available on April 26, 2017. KCNA/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo

    Any negotiation would face huge skepticism in Washington given North Korea's long record of broken promises. The last serious U.S.-North Korea negotiations collapsed in 2012 when Pyongyang launched a long-range rocket that derailed an agreement of a North Korean nuclear freeze in exchange for U.S. food aid.

    North Korea's weapons program has developed significantly since then. As a result, its price in any such negotiation is now likely to be far higher. At a minimum, Pyongyang would renew its long-standing demands for an end to joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises — which are set to resume this month — and an eventual peace treaty with Washington.

    To date, the Trump administration has heavily concentrated its diplomatic energy on cranking up international pressure on North Korea's government, in particular pressing China to lean on its wayward ally. Last weekend, the U.N. adopted its strongest economic sanctions on Pyongyang.

    Trump has been widely accused of injecting a new element of unpredictability and even chaos into U.S. policy toward North Korea, especially with his tweets and proclamations this week. It's unclear what effect they may have on the back channel contacts being maintained by Yun.

    SEE ALSO: US allies are stepping up to help with North Korea — and Kim Jong Un’s are backing down

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    Even as President Donald Trump says the US military is "locked and loaded" to potentially unleash "fire and fury" on North Korea, the two feuding countries have for months been holding secretive, back-channel talks, The Associated Press reported Friday.

    In a process dubbed the New York channel, Joseph Yun, the US envoy for North Korea policy and the only American diplomat to meet with a North Korean counterpart, passes messages between the two nuclear-armed nations — though it's unclear whether any contacts had discussed the most recent threats by each country.

    "Since the early 1990s, we've used the New York channel as a way of communicating with Pyongyang because we don't have diplomatic relations with North Koreans," said Joel Wit, a former State Department employee and the founder of 38 North, a website for expert analysis on North Korea.

    Serious negotiations sometimes happen in the channel, Wit told Business Insider, while at other points it's a drop box for mail. But the US and North Korea still talking amid threats shows that the public drama doesn't necessarily translate to private anger or calls to action.

    "After the Obama administration imposed sanctions, the North Koreans cut off communication," Wit said, adding that "it's a good sign" it has resumed.

    "In theory, it can show the administration understands that in order to accomplish things it not only needs to adopt maximum pressure, but also have some discussion with the North Korea," Wit said.

    Wit called Trump's mix of threats and dialogue "coercive diplomacy 101."

    "You're not just threatening people because you want to threaten them — you're threatening them because you want them to take offerings," Wit said.

    Much of the world reacted with alarm to both Trump's comment on Tuesday that the US would respond to threats from North Korea "with fire and fury like the world has never seen" and North Korea's response that it would mull plans to fire missiles toward Guam, a US territory in the Pacific.

    Wit said the back and forth of threats between the countries was "perfectly understandable" and "happens all the time" in the world of diplomacy.

    SEE ALSO: North Korea is playing hardball, but it's actually willing to talk — and possibly make peace with Trump

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    Robert Gates

    Robert Gates, a man who climbed to the top of the CIA over a 27 year intelligence career and served as defense secretary under both Barack Obama and George W. Bush, recently laid out a comprehensive plan on how the US should handle North Korea in comments to the Wall Street Journal.

    Gates, like current secretary of defense Jim Mattis, accepts that there is no military solution to North Korea's nuclear posturing. He also accepts that China is a key player.

    And he agrees with President Donald Trump that the US should try something new in the conflict, by nailing down a strategy with China before ever talking to North Korea.

    “It seems to me the need is for a comprehensive strategy you would lay out to the Chinese at a very high level, which would basically have both a diplomatic and a military component,” Gates told the Journal.

    Gates' plan would call for the US to swear off any attempt at regime change in North Korea, and sign a peace treaty. North Korea would have to agree to freeze its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, which it has said it would do if the US stopped its military exercises with South Korea.

    North Korea then agrees to thorough, invasive inspections of its nuclear facilities. If China objects, the US finds ways to make its life hell. Gates said the US could “heavily populate Asia with missile defenses” and promise to shoot down any North Korean missile launches.

    guided missile destroyer

    US missile defenses and their long range radars scare the pants off of China, who see them as a possible existential threat. 

    Then China and the US present the terms to North Korea, who China can muscle into the agreement by manipulating trade.

    Trump has already expressed that he'd be "honored" to talk with Kim Jong Un about peace, and North Korea has maintained back channel communications with the US despite the fiery rhetoric of the day.

    SEE ALSO: US allies are stepping up to help with North Korea — and Kim Jong Un’s are backing down

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    Donald Trump

    President Donald Trump on Friday capped off a week of tough talk on North Korea with some of his most blunt comments yet, promising North Korean leader Kim Jong Un would "regret it fast" if he made any "overt threats" or followed through on them.

    Trump was asked during a press availability what he meant by a tweet earlier on Friday that said, "Military solutions are now fully in place,locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely."

    Trump said the message was "pretty obvious."

    "I hope that they’re going to fully understand the gravity," Trump said of North Korea. "What I said is what I mean. Those words are very very easy to understand."

    Trump returned to making intense threats not only over North Korea's actions, but its words as well.

    "If he utters one more threat in the form of an overt threat, which, by the way, he has been uttering for years, and his family has been uttering for years, or if he does anything with respect to Guam or any place else that's an American territory or an American ally, he will truly regret it, and he will regret it fast," Trump said.

    Asked about an Associated Press report that the US and North Korea had been conducting secretive back channel diplomacy, Trump demurred. 

    "We don’t want to talk about back channels," he said.

    Joel Wit, a former State Department official with experience dealing with North Korea, told Business Insider that back channel talks should be private and separate from public rhetoric.

    Trump was also confronted with German Chancellor Angela Merkel's comment that "escalating the rhetoric is the wrong answer" with respect to North Korea. The president touted his friendship with Merkel but dismissed her comment.

    "Let her speak for Germany," he said.

    Trump also again took the opportunity to question the leadership of past US presidents on North Korea, saying they hadn't acted properly on the situation. While US presidents since Bill Clinton have tried to engage North Korea, impose sanctions, or offer diplomacy, none of those strategies achieved any more than delaying Pyongyang's status as a nuclear power.

    kim jong un

    Trump also blamed media bias for negative coverage of his fiery rhetoric this week.

    "If someone else uttered the exact same word that I did they’d say 'what a great statement,'" Trump said of the media.

    Trump reiterated his statement that "tens of millions that are so happy" that "finally we have a president that's sticking up for our nation."

    SEE ALSO: Trump's mix of threats and secret talks with North Korea are 'coercive diplomacy 101'

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    US navy uss ronald reagan rimpac 2010 carrier strike group

    As tensions reach a fever pitch between the US and North Korea, with Pyongyang announcing its intentions to fire missiles towards the US territory of Guam, the US Navy has continued to patrol and span the entire Pacific ocean with power and reach unparalleled on earth.

    Near Japan, within a short steam of Guam and the Korean Peninsula, sits the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier strike and the guided-missile destroyers and cruisers in its strike group.

    The Reagan's strike group is the only forward-based aircraft carrier in the US's arsenal and trains specifically for Asia-Pacific-specific missions. One of the destroyers in the group recently conducted freedom of navigation operation against excessive Chinese maritime claims in the South China Sea

    f 35b uss america

    Further south, in the Singapore Strait, the USS America, one of a new class of small deck aircraft carriers packed with V-22 Ospreys, and Harrier jump jets, and Marines ready with landing crafts to take any beach, is making its way to the Middle East, according to the US Naval Institute

    Near Eastern Australia, the the Naval Institute notes that the USS Bonhomme Richard amphibious readiness group (like a carrier strike group but for the smaller carriers) has the same aircraft setup but increased well decks and landing craft to launch Marines to take any beach in the world.

    Each of these carrier groups sails with guided-missile destroyers that pack some of the world's best missile defenses. In the event that North Korea follows through with a plan to fire missiles near Guam, any one of these groups of ships has a good shot at knocking these missiles down.

    USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6)But even with its scattered assets across the Pacific, the US is not on war footing towards North Korea. This simply represents a day in the life of the US Navy's massive fleet. 

    Should President Donald Trump give the word, dozens more ships, hundreds more aircraft, and innumerable guided missiles and deck guns could crowd the Korean Peninsula flanked by the US's powerful Asian allies.

    For more information on the US Navy's fleet and current operations, visit the US Naval Institute's Fleet and Marine Tracker

    SEE ALSO: US allies are stepping up to help with North Korea — and Kim Jong Un’s are backing down

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