USS Bonhomme Richard to leave Japan, return to U.S.

By Elizabeth Shim Contact the Author   |  Jan. 3, 2018 at 12:47 PM
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Jan. 3 (UPI) -- The U.S. Navy is expected to replace the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard with the 41,000-ton USS Wasp, as North Korea has shown both signs of not giving up weapons and reaching out to South Korea for talks.

The Bonhomme Richard, a forward-deployed vessel with the U.S. Seventh Fleet, has been stationed in the port at Sasebo, Japan, while taking part in U.S.-South Korea joint exercises, Yonhap reported Wednesday.

Seoul may be closely monitoring the turnover, first reported by USNI on Dec. 29, according to Yonhap.

The Bonhomme Richard is expected to stay in Japan for one to two months before setting out for San Diego Naval Base in California.

The Wasp recently docked in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, before making its way to Japan, according to USNI.

In 2018, the ship is expected to be ready for deployment as part of the Amphibious Ready Group/Marine Expeditionary Unit.

The unit includes the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter.

The Wasp has previously been deployed to the Middle East. Preparations for its move to Northeast Asia began in the fall of 2017.

It was briefly delayed when it was rerouted to respond to post-hurricane disaster relief efforts in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and later, in Puerto Rico.

The departing Bonhomme Richard played a critical role in recovery efforts in the aftermath of the sinking of the South Korean ferry Sewol in April 2014, according to Yonhap.

The ship can hold up to 48 helicopters and can carry more than 1,000 crewmembers.

Ahead of the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, speculation is growing over whether the United States and South Korea will engage in military exercises in February, when the games are being held.

The annual drills are not expected to be postponed, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis said last week.

But according to Military.com, Mattis also said he does not have a definitive response.

"I honestly don't have the answer to that question right now," Mattis said, regarding the Winter Games, while adding the decision is up to the two governments.

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