US carrier strike group off Australian coast, far from North Korea: defence official

A photograph provided by the US Navy appears to have undone President Donald Trump's claim that he was sending an "armada" toward the Korean Peninsula in an apparent massive show of force.

In fact, the battle group was a lot closer to Australia and thousands of nautical miles from North Korea. But it is headed north, sometime soon.

The "armada" headed by the the flagship aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson was allegedly ordered to "sail north" as a "prudent measure" to deter North Korea from any nuclear testing.

Pentagon chief Jim Mattis on April 11 said the Vinson was "on her way up" to the peninsula and President Donald Trump the next day said: "We are sending an armada. Very powerful."

Aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson transits the Sunda Strait in Indonesia on Friday. Source: US Navy/AFP

However, a navy photograph has revealed the Vinson was actually off the coast of Java in Indonesia over the weekend.

And a defence official on Tuesday said the ships are were the northwest coast of Australia.

"They are going to start heading north towards the Sea of Japan within next 24 hours," the official said on condition of anonymity.

The armada US had threatened to send to the Korean Peninsula more than a week ago, has still not left, an official has confirmed. PHoto: AP

The official added that the strike group wouldn't be in the region before next week at the earliest - it is thousands of nautical miles from the Java Sea to the Sea of Japan.

At the time of the strike group's deployment, many media outlets said the ships were steaming toward North Korea, when in fact they had temporarily headed in the opposite direction.

The armada has not left the Australian coast. Photo: AP

The United States ratcheted up its rhetoric ahead of North Korea's military parade and failed missile launch over the weekend, and Vice President Mike Pence on Monday declared that the era of US "strategic patience" in dealing with Pyongyang was over.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un responded with his own fiery warnings and threatened to conduct weekly missile tests.

Donald Trump announced that he was sending an armada to the Korean Peninsula more than a week ago. Photo: AP

The strike group has been conducting drills with the Australian navy in recent days, the official said.

It has scrapped a planned port visit in Australia as a result of sailing north.

US and China 'working closely together'

The United States and China are working "closely" together over North Korea, US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said on Tuesday, two days after a new missile test by Pyongyang.

Sunday's test "shows why we are working so closely right now with the Chinese, coming out of the Mar-a-Lago meeting" in Florida between the two nations' leaders earlier this month, Mattis told reporters.

North Korea had a massive military parade to celebrate the 105th anniversary of the birth of its founder. Photo: AP

The American-Chinese effort seeks to "get this under control and aim for the denuclearised Korean peninsula" desired by China, the US, South Korea and Japan, he said as he flew to the Middle East for a tour.

"We all share that same interest."

North Korea has defied international pressure over its quest to develop a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile capable of reaching the US mainland.

American officials said the missile test-fired on Sunday exploded seconds after launch.

North Korea still has many technical problems to resolve, but the intensity of its current testing worries Pentagon strategists.

North Korea has said it is ready to go to war with the US if it is provoked. Photo: AP

Estimates vary about how much time Pyongyang would still need to build intercontinental ballistic missiles, but some at the Pentagon think it could happen within two years.

Others believe several more years might be needed, noting the difficulty of designing and testing the warhead.

Military officers marching in Pyongyang during a military parade. Photo: AP

This component, which contains the nuclear bomb, must be able to resist the enormous heat and shock accompanying its atmospheric re-entry after being fired into space.

Mattis arrived on Tuesday in the Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh, his first stop on the Middle East tour that will also see him visit Egypt, Israel, Qatar and Djibouti in the Horn of Africa.

North Korea will continue to test missiles regularly and any military action against it by the United States would prompt "all out war", a senior North Korean official has told the BBC.

North Korea has conducted several missile and nuclear tests in defiance of United Nations sanctions and has said it has developed a missile that can strike the US mainland.

Newsbreak – April 19