Two top Navy fleet commanders said Tuesday that the next potential conflict hotspot would likely be in Korea.
"If there's a fight tonight, it's probably going to happen on the Korean peninsula," said Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin, commander of 7th Fleet, in a panel discussion at the AFCEA West 2017 conference.
Vice Adm. Nora Tyson, commander of 3rd Fleet, agreed with that assessment, saying that hostilities with the North Korean regime would be the "number one probability."
The fleet commanders made their comments on a panel discussion titled, "Are we ready to fight — today and in the future?"
In addition to its long-range missiles and nuclear programme, North Korea has a line of shorter-range Hwasong missiles capable of hitting Japan.
"Are we ready to fight? You bet we are," said Vice Adm. Jamie Foggo, a former 6th Fleet commander who now serves as director of the Navy's joint staff.
Foggo pointed to recent provocations out of Pyongyang as worrisome. Earlier this month, North Korea launched a land-based nuclear-capable ballistic missile that traveled 300 miles before splashing into the Sea of Japan.
"Frankly, it was pretty impressive," Foggo said. "It was like a submarine missile launched from a tank. Solid fuel. Pretty impressive."
Still, Aucoin pointed to the US' strong relationship with South Korea and Japan as helping to counter aggression out of Pyongyang, along with a number of moves of sophisticated weaponry and early-warning assets to the region, including E2D Hawkeye aircraft, F/A-18 Super Hornets, and F-35B fighters being placed in Okinawa.
The Republic of Korea Navy amphibious landing ship ROKS Dokdo (LPH 6111) and the aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73) transit the Sea of Japan. | U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Adam K. Thomas
The US also has Patriot missile batteries and is moving forward with placing the more-advanced THAAD interceptor on the ground in South Korea. There are more than 28,000 US soldiers stationed there.
Aucoin said those assets provide a "pretty good umbrella."
On Sunday, the Washington Post reported that preparations were underway to bring North Korean officials to the United States for diplomatic talks between former US officials.
7th Fleet, Aucoin said, is well-resourced and well-manned. "We're ready to deliver decisive combat power on, above, and below the surface if necessary," he said.