In April, as one of America’s Ohio class nuclear submarines, the USS Michigan, crept toward the Korean peninsula, Kim Jon Un’s regime issued a stark warning: “the USS Michigan won’t even be able to rise to the surface when it will meet a miserable end and turn into an underwater ghost.”

North Korea’s flair for the dramatic when it comes to international declarations, once again, fizzled into inaction as the 560 foot long, more than 16,000 ton nuclear sub emerged from the depths and approached the South Korean port of Busan.  Despite North Korea’s tenacity for levying empty threats, the concern that pressed them to address the Michigan’s approach was founded – as the stealthy submarine is not only incredibly difficult to detect, it also packs a serious punch, in the form of 154 missile tubes capable of launching America’s favorite Tomahawk cruise missiles at targets as far away as 1500 miles.

And this weekend, it’s returning to the Korean peninsula.

The Michigan’s arrival sent a clear message to Kim Jong Un’s regime, who have, on more than one occasion, threatened not only preemptive nuclear strikes on American bases in nearby allied nations, but anti-ship missile strikes against America’s warships in the area.  Although THAAD emplacements in South Korea and the Aegis missile defense system employed by both U.S. and Japanese naval vessels in the region could feasibly intercept a large medium to long-range ballistic missile, anti-ship missiles tend to travel at much greater speeds and along a more horizontal flight path, making an intercept extremely difficult, and placing our cruisers, destroyers, and carriers at legitimate risk.

That’s where missile subs like the Michigan come in.  Kim’s military can’t target what they can’t see, and the presence of such a vessel not only adds to the overall defensive presence in the region, but places more than 150 more North Korean targets in the cross hairs of American missile strikes, should war break out.

The USS Michigan began its life as a nuclear launch platform, but was eventually refitted to fire a huge number of conventional missiles in support of a wider array of Naval combat operations.  An arms control treaty signed by the United States at the end of the Cold War called for the decommissioning of four Trident nuclear submarines, but rather than retire the stealthy ships, the Navy simply converted them.  The Tomahawk cruise missiles now housed in the sub’s hull are, in many ways, the work horse of America’s kinetic foreign policy, seeing action in nearly every conflict, even when U.S. troops never set foot on the ground.


Image courtesy of the U.S. Navy