The Trump administration has faced criticism this week for its continued insistence that an “armada” (in the words of the president) was headed to the Korean Peninsula as a show of force as tensions with North Korea increased. As it turns out, that armada, anchored by the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, was actually headed away from the region, on its way through the Indian Ocean.
The geopolitical analysis firm Stratfor tracks the movement of American carrier strike and amphibious ready groups as they patrol the world’s oceans. Each week, Stratfor updates a map of the approximate positions of the ships at sea, relying on open-source reports. (It’s careful to note that these maps don’t include sensitive information, which makes sense: Hiding an aircraft carrier from foreign observers is tricky.)
Stratfor provided The Washington Post with the maps it has compiled since Trump was inaugurated. When it is stitched together, you can see the progress of the Carl Vinson from San Diego, across the Pacific Ocean and into Southeast Asia. You also can see how the administration’s incorrect information affected the firm’s analysis. In the animation below, keep your eye on CVN 70 — the Carl Vinson’s strike group. (Other vessels are indicated below the map.)
Amphibious Ready Groups (blue)
Carrier Strike Groups (orange)
- CVN 68: The USS Nimitz
- CVN 69: The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower
- CVN 70: The USS Carl Vinson
- CVN 71: The USS Theodore Roosevelt
- CVN 77: The USS George H.W. Bush
The Post’s Aaron Blake put together a timeline of the administration’s claims that the Carl Vinson was headed to Korea, which we can use to compare to Stratfor’s maps.
On March 30, before the issue was raised, Stratfor placed the Carl Vinson in the Sea of Japan between that country and North Korea. It had sailed there from the South China Sea two weeks earlier, as indicated by the dashed orange line.
The firm describes the Carl Vinson’s activity as being in support of Foal Eagle, an annual joint military exercise with South Korea.
On April 6, Stratfor put it in Singapore, having traveled southwest from the Korean Peninsula.
On April 13, though, it’s suddenly back near Korea — without the previous week’s travel near Malaysia indicated. As Blake notes in his timeline, this was the period during which the administration was (often implicitly) indicating that the Carl Vinson was headed toward Korea. We know, though, that it wasn’t. Instead, it was where Stratfor had placed it the week before.
On April 14, the Navy posted a photo of the Carl Vinson strike group at an unidentified position in the Indian Ocean.
On April 15, it was in the Sunda Strait between Sumatra and West Java.
Stars and Stripes reports that it would take four or five days for the Carl Vinson to travel from the Korean Peninsula to the strait.
As you can see from the map, the only other naval vessels nearby are those in the amphibious ready group — LHD 8 — led by the USS Makin Island, an amphibious assault ship that, in the April 13 update, was located off the coast of Taiwan.
What’s particularly remarkable about the administration’s assertions is how readily they fell apart. The consequences may extend beyond immediate embarrassment. The Wall Street Journal interviewed a candidate for the presidency in South Korea, Hong Joon-pyo.
“What was said was very important for the national security of South Korea,” Hong said to the Journal’s reporters. “If that was a lie, then during Trump’s term, South Korea will not trust whatever Trump says.”