SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The United States will fly a supersonic bomber over allied South Korea in a massive combined air exercise involving hundreds of warplanes, in a demonstration of force intended to intimidate North Korea over its barrage of ballistic missile tests this week that has heightened tensions in the region.
South Korea’s Defense Ministry said at least one B-1B bomber will take part on the final day of a joint U.S.-South Korean air force exercise that ends on Saturday. South Korean and US military officials did not immediately provide further details.
The “Vigilant Storm” exercise, which involved around 240 fighter jets, including advanced F-35 fighter jets from both countries, sparked an angry reaction from North Korea. The North launched dozens of missiles into the sea this week, including an intercontinental ballistic missile that triggered evacuation warnings in northern Japan, and flew its own fighter jets inside its territory.
On Friday night, North Korea’s foreign ministry described the military actions as an appropriate response to Vigilant Storm, which it called a display of US “military confrontation hysteria”. He said North Korea would respond with the “toughest reaction” to any attempt by “hostile forces” to encroach on its sovereignty or security interests.
B-1B flyovers had been a familiar show of force during past periods of tensions with North Korea. The planes last appeared in the region in 2017, in another provocative run at North Korean weapons demonstrations. But overflights had been halted in recent years as the United States and South Korea halted large-scale exercises to support the Trump administration’s diplomatic efforts with North Korea and because of COVID-19.
Allies resumed large-scale training this year as North Korea ramped up its weapons testing at a record pace, exploiting a split in the UN Security Council left open by Russia’s war on Ukraine. as a window to accelerate the development of armaments.
North Korea hates such point-blank displays of US military power. The North continued to describe the B-1B as a “nuclear strategic bomber” although the aircraft switched to conventional armament in the mid-1990s.
Vigilant Storm was originally scheduled to end on Friday, but the allies decided to extend the training until Saturday in response to a series of North Korean ballistic launches on Thursday, including an ICBM that triggered evacuation alerts and stopped trains in northern Japan.
Thursday’s launches came after the North fired more than 20 missiles on Wednesday, the most it had launched in a single day. The launches came after senior North Korean military official Pak Jong Chon issued a veiled threat of nuclear conflict with the United States and South Korea over their joint exercises, which the North says are rehearsals for a possible invasion.
South Korea also dispatched around 80 military aircraft on Friday after tracking around 180 flights of North Korean warplanes inside North Korean territory. The South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said North Korean warplanes had been detected in various areas inland and along the country’s east and west coasts, but did not come particularly close. from the Korean border. The South Korean military spotted about 180 flight tracks from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., but it was not immediately clear how many North Korean planes were involved and whether any may have flown more than once.
In Friday’s statement attributed to an unidentified spokesperson, North Korea’s foreign ministry said the United States and South Korea had created an “unstable atmosphere” in the region with their military exercises. He accused the United States of mobilizing its allies in a campaign using sanctions and military threats to pressure North Korea to disarm unilaterally.
“Sustained provocation will necessarily be followed by sustained counter-action,” the statement said.
North Korea has launched dozens of ballistic missiles this year, including several ICBMs and an intermediate-range missile flown over Japan. South Korean officials say there are indications North Korea could detonate its first nuclear test device since 2017. Experts say North Korea is trying to force the United States to agree to it as a nuclear power and seeks to negotiate economic and security concessions from a position of strength.
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