Navy personnel prepare to launch an F-18 fighter from the USS Carl Vinson during an exercise in South China Sea. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

Updated at 2:25 p.m., Sunday Apr. 9

The San Diego-based USS Carl Vinson and its strike group will move toward the Korean peninsula in a show of force as concerns grow about North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

Earlier this month North Korea tested a liquid-fueled Scud missile which only traveled a fraction of its range.

The nuclear-powered Vinson and its strike group, which includes the cruisers USS Bunker Hill and USS Lake Champlain and ships of Destroyer Squadron 1, will make its way from Singapore, according to a U.S. official, who was not authorized to speak to the media and requested anonymity.

“We feel the increased presence is necessary,” the official said, citing North Korea’s worrisome behavior.

The news was first reported by Reuters.

In a statement late Saturday, the U.S. Navy’s Third Fleet said the strike group had been directed to sail north, but it did not specify the destination. The military vessels will operate in the Western Pacific rather than making previously planned port visits to Australia, it added.

The ships left Singapore Saturday en route to port visits in Australia but were diverted north by Admiral Harry Harris, Commander of the U.S. Pacific Command.

This year North Korean officials, including leader Kim Jong-un, have repeatedly indicated an intercontinental ballistic missile test or similar could be coming, possibly as soon as April 15, the 105th birthday of North Korea’s founding president, which is celebrated annually as “the Day of the Sun.”

Earlier this week President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping met in Florida, where Trump pressed his counterpart to do more to curb North Korea’s nuclear program.

Trump’s national security aides have completed a review of U.S. options to try to curb North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. These include economic and military measures but lean more toward sanctions and increased pressure on Beijing to rein in its reclusive neighbor.

Although the option of pre-emptive military strikes on North Korea is not off the table, the review prioritizes less-risky steps and de-emphasizes direct military action.

Trump spoke with South Korea’s acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn on Friday, the White House said on Saturday in a statement which did not mention the strike group.

With all of its vessels, the Carl Vinson Strike Group includes the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, embarked Carrier Air Wing 2, Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Wayne E. Meyer and USS Michael Murphy, and the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain.

The strike group has been deployed from San Diego to the Western Pacific since Jan. 5, and has participated in numerous bilateral exercises with the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force, the Republic of Korea Navy, various maritime security initiatives and routine patrol operations in the South China Sea.

“For more than 70 years, the U.S. Navy has maintained a persistent naval presence in the Indo-Asia Pacific,” the statement said. “The U.S. Navy is committed to continuing this forward presence, which is focused on stability, regional cooperation and economic prosperity for all nations.”

— Reuters and City News Service wire reports

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