The US and South Korea have staged a joint show of force over the Korean Peninsula, two days after North Korea fired a missile over Japan.
Two US B-1B bombers, four South Korean F-15 fighter jets and four US F-35B fighter jets took part in the joint US-South Korean exercise, an official with the South Korean Air Force told CNN.
The exercise was designed to “strongly counter North Korea’s repeated ballistic missile tests and development of nuclear weapons,” the official said.
In a statement, the air force said four South Korean jets took part in the exercise alongside two US bombers flying out of Guam and four stealth fighter jets from a US Marine Corps base in Japan.
They conducted a mock air-to-ground bombing drill, which simulated a surgical strike of key enemy facilities, over the Pilseung Range in the eastern province of Gangwon.
Show of force
Thursday’s flyover follows North Korea’s latest weapons test, the first ballistic missile fired over Japan, though various stages of rockets carrying satellites have landed to Japan’s east and south.
North Korea has been test-firing missiles at a rapid clip this year. With each launch, experts say Pyongyang can further refine and perfect its missile technology.
The bomber flights are a common response to North Korean actions that the United States and its allies perceive as hostile.
B-1s flew over the Korean Peninsula following both of Pyongyang’s successful tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles, the type of weapons designed to deliver nuclear warheads to far-off locations like the mainland United States.
The bombers flew from Andersen Air Force Base on the island of Guam, the closest US territory to North Korea and the target of North Korean threats in recent weeks.
The state-run Korean Central News Agency said that the Tuesday missile launch was “a meaningful prelude to containing Guam,” which it then called the “advanced base of invasion” for US forces.
South Korea and the US are currently engaged in joint military exercises, which kicked off last week. The annual exercises always infuriate Pyongyang, and some have called for them to be called off or scaled back as a show of good faith that might bring Kim back to the negotiating table.
Advanced fighter jet
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the most expensive and one of the most controversial weapons systems in US history, is held out as “the cornerstone” of US defense in the Pacific.
Based at a US base in Iwakuni, the fighters arrived in Japan in January, showing Washington’s “commitment to the defense of Japan with the most capable and modern equipment in the US inventory,” a US Marines official told CNN at the time.
According to the Marines, the deployment of the fighters to Japan was ordered under the Obama administration, and was not related to ongoing tensions with North Korea.
Nevertheless, analysts said the fighters’ presence in Japan sends a strong message, and the country’s Ministry of Defense claimed they increased Japan’s deterrent capability amid an “increasingly severe” security environment.
The F-35 stealth fighters would be a key part of any US pre-emptive strike on North Korea designed to neutralize the country’s defensive and counterstrike capabilities, Jerry Hendrix, a retired Navy captain and senior fellow at the Center for New American Security told CNN earlier this month.
Countering North Korea’s relatively formidable surface-to-air missile defense capabilities, stealth American F-22s, F-35s and B-2 bombers would likely lead a joint air campaign with the help of Japanese and South Korean F-15 or F-16 fighters, he said.