In response to North Korea’s latest test of a mid-range ballistic missile designed to carry a nuclear payload which was fired over Japan for the first time, the United States and South Korea staged their own show of force with state-of-the-art stealth fighters on Thursday.
Four US F-35B fighter jets joined two US B-1B bombers and four South Korean F-15 fighter jets in the joint US-South Korea flyover of the Korean Peninsula, an official with the South Korean air force told CNN.
The exercise was designed to “strongly counter North Korea’s repeated ballistic missiles tests and development of nuclear weapons,” the official said.
The two militaries conducted a mock bombing drill, which simulated a surgical strike of key enemy facilities, over the Pilsung Range in the eastern province of Gangwon.
US Pacific Command issued a statement, saying that the flyover was a “direct response to North Korea’s intermediate range ballistic missile launch.”
“North Korea’s actions are a threat to our allies, partners and homeland, and their destabilizing actions will be met accordingly,” said Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, commander of the Pacific Air Forces.
North Korea has been defiantly test-firing missiles all year long. Experts say that with each launch, Pyongyang is able to 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.
The air force said the US bombers flew out from Andersen Air Force Base on Guam, and four stealth fighter jets came from a US Marine Corps base in Japan.
B-1 bombers 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 such as the US mainland.
The state-run Korean Central News Agency said that Tuesday’s missile launch was “a meaningful prelude to containing Guam,” which it called the “advanced base of invasion” for US forces.
It issued a follow-up statement on Thursday, saying the agency promised future launches “targeting the Pacific, where the US imperialist aggressor forces’ bases are stationed.”
It added, “It should not be forgotten even a moment that the whole of South Korea can turn into ruins.”
South Korea and the United States 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 North Korean leader Kim Jong Un back to the negotiating table.
At a news conference Thursday, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Hua Chunying seemed to be referring to the largely simulated drills when she said the situation in the Korean Peninsula “is not like a movie script or computer game.”
“It is real. It exists,” she said. “It is an important and serious issue that directly affects people’s safety in the South and North. And it also affects the peace of the whole region. We hope every side makes rational judgments and wise decisions in a responsible manner for the people and regional peace and stability.”
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