U.S. deploys new combat ship in naval drills, North Korea threatening nuclear retaliation The U.S. Navy will send its new combat ship tailored for Asia’s shallow coastal waters to join military drills with South Korea that North Korea calls a prelude for invasion.

Carrying a helicopter, a vertical takeoff unmanned aerial vehicle, a 57 millimeter gun and 21 missiles, the USS Fort Worth will become the first Littoral Combat Ship to take part in the annual Foal Eagle exercises starting next month off the coast of South Korea.

“The specific role that Fort Worth will play in Foal Eagle is really no different than any other Navy ship has for years,” Rear Admiral Charles Williams told reporters Tuesday in Singapore on board Fort Worth. “Fort Worth’s role will be just a normal part of that exercise,” said Williams, who is Logistics Group Western Pacific Commander.

The 389 foot LCS — the second to have been deployed to the region — will operate in Asia for 16 months, primarily in Southeast Asia, within the 7th Fleet grouping. In North Asia the ship will make port visits in Japan, a U.S. ally immersed in a territorial spat with China, and Admiral Williams said the LCS could also operate in South Asia. We are able to operate a bit closer to shore and we do have more speed than some of the other ships. It’s just something we’re going to be actually exploring during the exercise

North Korea demands the U.S. and South Korea end the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle exercises held early each year in order to improve ties on the peninsula. The regime calls the drills preparations for war and routinely threatens to retaliate with nuclear force if its territory is violated during the exercises that the U.S. and South Korea say are defensive in nature.

Fort Worth’s commanding officer Matthew Kawas said he could not comment on whether the ship’s presence could risk inflaming tensions with North Korea. “We are looking to normalize having an LCS out here and send the LCS all over to start participating in exercises and make it more routine,” Commander Kawas said.

“We are able to operate a bit closer to shore and we do have more speed than some of the other ships,” Kawas said. “It’s just something we’re going to be actually exploring during the exercise and see what additional features we can bring.”

North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said in a statement carried by the state-run Rodong Sinmun on Feb. 12 that South Korea was raising tensions to an “extreme level” by planning the drills with the U.S. It said North Korea would use its “small, precise and diversified” nuclear arms in a “decisive battle” on the U.S. mainland. MORE