The U.S. Navy will relieve Seventh Fleet Commander Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin after a series of collisions involving its warships in Asia, a U.S. official told Reuters, as the search goes on for 10 sailors missing since the latest mishap.
“An expedited change in leadership was needed,” the official said in Washington Tuesday of the decision to relieve Aucoin of his command.
The Navy declined to comment on any plans to relieve Aucoin, which was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.
The official told Reuters that Admiral Scott Swift, the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, would relieve Aucoin, a three-star admiral, when the two meet in Japan.
It was not clear when the formal announcement would be made. The Seventh Fleet is headquartered in Japan.
Commander scheduled to step down
Aucoin was scheduled to step down next month, with Phillip Sawyer, deputy commander of the Pacific Fleet and a submariner, slated to succeed him. Aucoin came up through the Navy’s air wing as an F-14 navigator.
The move to replace Aucoin comes days after the collision between a guided-missile destroyer and a merchant vessel east of Singapore and Malaysia before dawn Monday, the fourth major incident in the U.S. Pacific Fleet this year.
An international search-and-rescue operation involving aircraft, divers and vessels from the United States, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia is looking for the 10 U.S. sailors missing since the accident.
Remains found aboard damaged ship
On Tuesday, U.S. Navy and Marine Divers found human remains inside sealed sections of the damaged hull of the USS John S McCain, which is moored at Singapore’s Changi Naval Base. The Navy has not yet announced the identities of the bodies discovered.
The U.S. Navy is also working to identify a body found by the Malaysian navy about eight nautical miles northwest of the collision site.
The latest collision has prompted a fleetwide investigation and plans for temporary halts in U.S. Navy operations.
The USS John S. McCain’s sister ship, the USS Fitzgerald, almost sank off the coast of Japan after colliding with a Philippine container ship June 17. The bodies of seven U.S. sailors were found in a flooded berthing area after that collision.
The USS John S. McCain and the tanker Alnic MC collided Monday while the U.S. ship was approaching Singapore on a routine port call. The impact tore a hole in the warship’s port side at the waterline, flooding compartments that included a crew sleeping area.
Hagatña, Guam (CNN) North Korean military figures are putting the final touches on a plan to fire four missiles into the waters around the US-territory of Guam, to be presented to leader Kim Jong Un within days.
In a statement last week, Gen. Kim Rak Gyom, commander of the Strategic Force of the Korean People’s Army, said the plan to fire “four Hwasong-12 intermediate-range strategic ballistic rockets … to signal a crucial warning to the US” would be ready by “mid-August.”
Recent days have seen a significant escalation of tensions in the region as preparations are put in place for a possible launch in Guam, Japan and South Korea.
A notice put out by Guam’s Joint Information Center Saturday warned residents how to prepare “for an imminent missile threat.”
“Do not look at the flash or fireball — it can blind you,” the note said. “Lie flat on the ground and cover your head. If the explosion is some distance away, it could take 30 seconds or more for the blast wave to hit.”
On Saturday, some of Japan’s land-based Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) missile interceptors began arriving at Japanese Self Defense Forces (SDF) bases in three of the four prefectures any North Korean missiles would likely fly over en route to Guam.
Pyongyang identified three of those areas — Shimane, Hiroshima and Kochi prefectures — in its statement last week.
A spokesman for SDF said the missiles were being deployed not to intercept missiles, but rather “just in case.” He did not elaborate.
Sim Tack, a senior analyst for private intelligence firm Stratfor, said the Japanese batteries are designed for protecting the area where they are deployed, “(they are) not meant to shoot missiles out of the sky as they pass over Japan at high altitude.”
“So unless those North Korean missiles were to fall short, the Patriots shouldn’t have a function to serve in this particular case,” he said.
Aegis is able to track 100 missiles simultaneously and fire interceptors to take out an enemy’s ballistic projectiles.
In South Korea, where both the military and civilians are used to facing threats from North Korea, Defense Minister Song Young-moo warned the country’s armed forces “to maintain full readiness” to “immediately punish with powerful force” any action against the South.
“Recently, North Korea made its habitual absurd remarks that it will turn Seoul into a sea of fire and that it will strike near Guam,” Song said according to ministry official. “North Korea raising tension (on the Peninsula) is a serious challenge against the South Korean-US alliance and the international community.”
Meanwhile, US-South Korean joint military exercises are due to begin later this month. The annual exercises, called Ulchi-Freedom Guardian, are expected to run from August 21 to 31.
On Friday, US President Donald Trump doubled down on his statement that he would unleash “fire and fury like the world has never seen” if Pyongyang continued its threats, saying in a tweet that “military solutions” were “locked and loaded” for use against North Korea.
According to a statement from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Xi told Trump in a call between the two leaders Saturday all “relevant parties parties should exercise restraint and avoid words and actions that would escalate tensions on the Korean Peninsula.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel described escalation as “the wrong answer,” while Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Trump’s statements were “very worrying.”
Last week, New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English criticized Trump’s “fire and fury” comments as “not helpful in an environment that’s very tense.”
French President Emmanuel Macron called for the international community to work with North Korea to “resume the path of dialogue without conditions,” following a call with Trump Saturday.
Washington has previously said it will consider talks with Pyongyang if it agrees to give up its nuclear weapons program, a pre-condition North Korean officials have described as a non-starter.
At a church in central Guam Sunday, parishioners sang “Lord, we pray for world peace” after discussing the potential North Korean threat.
“There’s a lot of disbelief going on, there’s a lot of anxiety,” Father Paul Gofigan told CNN after the mass.
Gofigan said there is not a lot of panic in Guam, and that people’s faith — the island has been overwhelmingly Catholic since the arrival of Spanish missionaries in the 17th century– has been on display in recent days.
“Faith is so deeply rooted into our culture,” he said.
The territory’s governor, Eddie Baza Calvo, said he spoke with Trump and the President’s chief of staff, John Kelly, on Saturday.
“Both assured me that the people of Guam are safe,” Calvo wrote on Facebook. “In the President’s words they are behind us ‘1,000 percent.’ As the head of the Government of Guam, I appreciate their reassurances that my family, my friends, everyone on this island, are all safe.”
“Nobody really deserves to be caught in the middle of these games,” said Victoria-Lola Leon Guerrero, an activist who campaigns for a lowered military presence.
“You’re playing with people’s lives. We just want peace, we just want to continue to enjoy our lives here.”
James Griffiths reported and wrote from Hong Kong. Joshua Berlinger reported from Hagatña, Guam. CNN’s Steven Jiang, KJ Kwon, Chieu Luu, Brad Lendon and journalist Chie Kobayashi contributed reporting.
China’s air force said Saturday that its warplanes had conducted long-range drills over the Bashi Channel and the Miyako Strait “several times” over the past week, just a day after the country’s Defense Ministry told Japan that it should “get used to” the military exercises.
“China’s air force over the past week conducted multiple drills far out at sea, with H-6K bombers and many other types of aircraft flying through the Bashi Channel and Miyako Strait, testing actual battle capabilities over the sea,” air force spokesman Shen Jinke was quoted as saying by the state-run CGTN website.
Shen said the drills were carried out as part of the air force’s yearly training plan, stressing that they complied with international law and were not aimed “at any specific country, region or target.”
The Miyako Strait lies between the islands of Miyako and Okinawa while the Bashi Channel separates Taiwan and the Philippines. Both are key entryways into the western Pacific Ocean.
Saturday’s announcement came after a Defense Ministry spokesman defended what he called “routine exercises” Thursday that saw six Chinese H-6 bombers fly through the Miyako Strait.
Japan scrambled fighters in response. There was no violation of Japanese airspace.
“It is legitimate for Chinese military planes to fly through the strait, and more similar training will be conducted on the high seas as needed,” spokesman Ren Guoqiang Guoqiang said.
“The parties concerned don’t need to overact and make a great fuss about it,” he added. “They will feel better after getting used to such drills.”
Ahead of last week’s exercises, the Chinese military last sent ships and planes through the international but politically sensitive waters and airspace in April as part of its continuing push to hone its ability to operate further from its shores.
Exercises through the Miyako Strait have become more and more commonplace as China seeks to project its military clout farther into the Pacific.
In early March, Japan scrambled fighter jets after a total of 13 Chinese naval aircraft were spotted flying through the strait. That large-scale drill featured fighters, bombers and early warning aircraft.
Beijing has blasted Tokyo for hyping the exercises, calling them part of “regular” drills, while Japan has said it will keep a vigilant eye on the “expanding and increasing” actions of the Chinese military in the area.
According to data released by Japan’s Defense Ministry on Friday, the Air Self-Defense Force scrambled fighter jets in response to Chinese aircraft 101 times from April to June, down from 199 last year.
The plunge came after the ASDF scrambled fighters against Chinese planes a record-high 1,168 times in fiscal 2016, which ended in March.
Canada’s Navy and Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force should strengthen cooperation in light of the countries’ shared values, Deputy Commander of the Royal Canadian Navy, Rear Adm. Gilles Couturier said Thursday.
Couturier was speaking at a reception on a Canadian Navy vessel in a Tokyo port to mark the visit of two Canadian Navy frigates.
At dusk, Canadian sailors and MSDF personnel packed the deck of the HMCS Ottawa, which served as the reception venue. That ship and the HMCS Winnipeg had been deployed in the Indo-Asia Pacific region since March, and both vessels are currently calling at Harumi Wharf in Chuo Ward, Tokyo.
In a welcome speech, Canadian Ambassador to Japan Ian Burney emphasized both nations’ respect for democracy, human rights, free trade and other liberal values. “Against the backdrop of an increasingly troubled global environment, I think it has never been more important for the two countries to come together,” Burney said.
Couturier expressed similar thoughts. “Canada and Japan share the same values,” the deputy commander said. Addressing participants from the MSDF, he said, “We are very much looking forward to doing more with you.”
In his speech, MSDF Chief of Staff Adm. Yutaka Murakawa recalled participating in a joint exercise with a Canadian Navy vessel 35 years ago. He said the partnership between the MSDF and the Canadian Navy “has grown tremendously.”
For their current deployment, the two Canadian vessels have sailed around the Indo-Asia Pacific region, including Guam, the Philippines, Malaysia, India, Singapore, Sri Lanka, China and South Korea. The ships also participated in joint exercises with MSDF vessels.
“We hail the Royal Canadian Navy for its increasing engagement in the [Indo-Asia Pacific] region to ensure maritime security,” Murakawa added.
The two frigates’ current visit to Japan is the 31st by Canadian Navy vessels, according to the MSDF.
The leaders of Sweden and Japan on Sunday demanded that North Korea halts missile tests, and pledged increased cooperation in the U.N. Security Council.
During a visit to Sweden by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Swedish counterpart Stefan Lofven described the tests as a “threat to global peace … and security.”
Abe condemned the April attack in central Stockholm when the driver of a stolen truck killed five pedestrians and injured 14 people. Abe said that Japan and Sweden would work together to combat terrorism.
Both leaders also discussed increasing bilateral trade ties as the two countries prepare to celebrate the 150th anniversary of diplomatic relations next year.
Abe’s visit to Stockholm was the first leg of a Nordic tour, which also takes him to Finland and Denmark.
TOKYO — The Japanese government is considering equipping cutting-edge F-35 stealth fighters with air-to-surface missiles, which are capable of striking remote targets on land, and plans to deploy these fighters to the Air Self-Defense Force, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.
It will become the first introduction of such missiles for the Self-Defense Forces. The government hopes to allocate relevant expenses in the fiscal 2018 budget, according to sources close to the government.
The main purpose of the introduction is to prepare for emergencies on remote Japanese islands. ome experts believe the government is also eyeing possession of the capability of attacking targets such as enemy bases for the purpose of defending the country.
According to the sources, F-35 fighter jets that will replace the ASDF’s F-4 fighter aircraft are employed by U.S. forces and others. The F-35 aircraft has an advanced stealth capability that makes the aircraft less visible on enemy radar. The ASDF plans to introduce a total of 42 units of the F-35 and gradually deploy them to the Misawa Air Base in Aomori Prefecture starting at the end of this fiscal year. The government is considering introducing some additional capabilities for the aircraft.
The most likely option the government is currently focusing on is the Joint Strike Missile (JSM) that is being developed mainly by Norway, which also participated in an international project to develop the F-35. The ASDF currently has no air-to-surface missile capabilities, but the JSM has both air-to-ship and air-to-surface capabilities, with an estimated range of about 300 kilometers.
The Defense Ministry is building up national defense systems to defend remote islands, such as the Nansei Islands. In addition to deploying new Osprey transport aircraft to the Ground Self-Defense Force, the ministry plans to create an amphibious rapid deployment brigade, similar to other nations’ marines.
As an air-to-surface missile has a long range, it is possible to effectively strike a target from safe airspace. For this to be possible, the ministry decided it was necessary to consider introducing the JSM to prepare for situations such as preventing foreign military vessels from approaching remote islands or the SDF launching an operation to regain control of an occupied island.
Meanwhile, if the F-35 aircraft with an advanced stealth capability is equipped with long-range air-to-surface missiles, it will effectively be possible to use the F-35 to attack bases in foreign countries.
The government has said that the Constitution allows Japan to possess the capability of striking enemy bases, but the nation does not actually possess the capability as its political decisions have been based on an exclusively defense-oriented policy.
If Japan introduces air-to-surface missiles, it could prompt opposition from neighboring countries. Therefore, the government is believed to be seeking the understanding of those countries by explaining that it does not intend to use the capability to attack enemy bases, but to defend remote islands.
However, with North Korea continuing its nuclear and missile development programs and repeatedly conducting provocative actions, there are growing calls for the government to possess the capability to strike enemy bases to improve Japan’s deterrence.
Amid such a situation, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has expressed on multiple occasions his intention to consider the issue. On June 20, the Liberal Democratic Party’s Research Commission on Security compiled an interim report on proposals for the next medium-term defense program for fiscal 2019-23, in which it called for the government to swiftly start discussions on possessing the capability to attack enemy bases.