SEOUL, South Korea — The United States flew some of its most advanced warplanes in bombing drills with ally South Korea on Thursday, a clear warning after North Korea launched a midrange ballistic missile designed to carry nuclear bombs over Japan earlier this week, the U.S. and South Korean militaries said. North Korea hates such displays of U.S. military might at close range and will likely respond with fury.
Two U.S. B-1B supersonic bombers and four F-35B stealth fighter jets joined four South Korean F-15 fighters in live-fire exercises at a military field in eastern South Korea that simulated precision strikes against the North’s “core facilities,” according to the U.S. Pacific Command and South Korea’s Defense Ministry. The B-1Bs were flown in from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam while the F-35Bs came from a U.S. base in Iwakuni, Japan.
North Korea, which claims Washington has long threatened it by flaunting the powerful U.S. nuclear arsenal, describes the long-range B-1Bs as “nuclear strategic bombers” although the United States no longer arms them with nuclear weapons.
Hours after the announcements by Washington and Seoul, North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency issued a short statement calling the exercises a “rash act of those taken aback” by North Korea’s recent missile launch.
The dueling military displays open up the risk that things will get worse as each side seeks to show it won’t be intimidated.
North Korea has made it clear that it sees its weapons program, which demands regular testing to perfect, as the only way to contest decades of U.S. hostility, by which it means the huge U.S. military presence in South Korea, Japan and the Pacific. Washington, in turn, seeks with its joint drills with Seoul and bomber flights to show that it will not be pushed from its traditional role of supremacy in the region. More missile tests, more bomber flyovers and three angry armies facing each other across the world’s most heavily armed border raises the possibility that a miscalculation could lead to real fighting.
The U.S. Pacific Command said the exercises were conducted in response to North Korea’s recent missile launch. Over the course of a 10-hour mission, the B-1Bs, F-35Bs and two Japanese F-15 fighters first flew together over waters near Kyushu, Japan. The U.S. and South Korean warplanes then flew across the Korean Peninsula and participated in the live-fire training before returning to their respective home stations, according to the Pacific Command.
“North Korea’s actions are a threat to our allies, partners and homeland, and their destabilizing actions will be met accordingly,” Gen. Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, commander of the U.S. Pacific Air Forces, said in a statement.