The U.S. is considering dispatching the massive aircraft carrier USS George Washington to the waters where North Korea allegedly sank a South Korean warship, defense officials said Wednesday.
The deployment of the nuclear-powered carrier, one of the world's largest warships, would represent a major show of force by the U.S., which has vowed to protect South Korea and is seeking to blunt aggression from North Korea.
An international investigation last month blamed North Korea for torpedoing a South Korean navy vessel, the Cheonan, in March, killing 46 sailors.
Two U.S. defense officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision had not been made, said that a decision on deployment was likely by week's end.
Last week, the Pentagon announced that it was planning two major military exercises with South Korea to take place in the "near future." The exercises were to focus in part on anti-submarine operations.
The officials said the George Washington's deployment would be separate from the upcoming exercises.
The latest plans to bolster military cooperation in the Yellow Sea was aimed specifically at sending a message to North Korea that the U.S. would help defend South Korea if necessary.
The deployment of the aircraft carrier would be seen as a particularly aggressive move by the United States because of its sheer size. According to a Navy website, the carrier is 244 feet high from keel to mast and can accommodate some 6,250 crew members.
Built in the 1980s, the carrier uses two nuclear reactors that would allow it to steam almost 18 years before needing to refuel.
The sinking of the Cheonan was South Korea's worst military disaster since the Korean War, which started 60 years ago and ended in a cease-fire in 1953. No formal peace treaty was ever signed, and more than 28,000 U.S. troops remain stationed in the south, a critical regional ally.