The US sent two B-1B Lancer strategic bombers from Guam's Andersen Air Force Base base to the Korean Peninsula, to practice “attack capabilities” with South Korean jet fighters and hold live-fire drills on Saturday, Yonhap News reported, the latest show of force by the US military after North Korea’s first-ever ICBM test launch on July 4. The pair of US bombers flew conducted a simulated destruction of an enemy ballistic missile launcher and underground facilities, the South's air force said, sending a strong hint to its northern neighbor.
The joint exercise included US F-16 fighters jets as well as fighter planes from the South Korean and Japanese air forces, and came a day after Trump said in Warsaw on Thursday that he was considering “some pretty severe things” in response to North Korea’s latest actions
Friday’s flyover followed a joint missile-defense drill by the US and South Korean armies on Korea’s east coast Wednesday, and as the US Pacific Air Forces said in a statement late on Friday, the 10-hour flight drill was conducted “in response to a series of increasingly escalatory actions by North Korea."
The US message was clear enough: "North Korea’s actions are a threat to our allies, partners and homeland,” Gen. Terrence O’ Shaughnessy, Pacific Air Forces commander, said in a statement. “Let me be clear, if called upon we are trained, equipped and ready to unleash the full lethal capability of our allied air forces."
Some more details on the drill from the WSJ and Reuters: during the drill, two B-1B bombers flew from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam to the Korean Peninsula where the bombers conducted the live-fire exercise at a range in South Korea's eastern Gangwon province, dropping weapons in a simulated attack on a missile launcher. They were joined by South Korean and U.S. F-16 jet fighters during the mission: South Korean and U.S. fighter jets conducted precision strike drills aimed at attacking enemy targets hidden underground.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency said the bombers then flew west, hugging the heavily fortified Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) border between the two Koreas, before leaving South Korean airspace. The B-1Bs then flew with Japanese F-2 jet fighters over the East China Sea before returning to Guam.
This was not the first time the US sent a very clear message to te Kim regime: the Pentagon has been making shows of force in recent months in response to perceived increases in tension on the Korean Peninsula. Twice in May, the U.S. sent B-1B bombers on flyovers near the Korean Peninsula. Each came shortly after a North Korean missile test. So far these have proben to not be very effective at deterring North Korea.
Also in April, the US said it was sending the USS Carl Vinson carrier strike group to the western Pacific to underscore Washington’s commitment to the region. In that case, the announcement instead raised questions about U.S. credibility after it came to light that the aircraft carrier was thousands of miles away. On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis told reporters in an impromptu briefing at the Pentagon that “we are leading with diplomatic and economic efforts” although he said the launch was a “very serious escalation” and warned the North that any effort to start a war “would lead to severe consequences.”
Confirming that the US military is just waiting for a green light, in its statement following Friday’s air force exercise, the U.S. said that it “maintains flexible bomber and jet fighter capabilities” in the region and could “quickly respond to any regional threat.”
The U.S. bombers and South Korean fighters “are just two of many lethal military options at our disposal,” said Lt. Gen. Thomas Bergeson, deputy commander of the U.S. military in South Korea. “This mission clearly demonstrates the U.S.-ROK alliance remains prepared to use the full range of capabilities to defend and to preserve the security of the Korean Peninsula and region,” Lt. Gen. Bergeson added, using the acronym for South Korea’s formal name, the Republic of Korea.
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Separately Reuters reports that in a move that is sure to anger China and Russia, the US also plans to carry out "a new test of its THAAD missile defense system against an intermediate-range ballistic missile in the coming days" as tensions with North Korea climb.
The test, which was reportedly planned months ago, will be the first of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) to defend against a simulated attack by an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM), one of the officials said. The THAAD interceptors will be fired from Alaska. The United States has THAAD interceptors in Guam that are meant to help guard against a missile attack from a country such as North Korea.
Asked by Reuters, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) confirmed that it aimed to carry out a THAAD flight test "in early July." Chris Johnson, an MDA spokesman, said the THAAD weapon system at the Pacific Spaceport Complex Alaska in Kodiak, Alaska, would "detect, track and engage a target with a THAAD interceptor."
Earlier this month Moscow and Beijing, in a joint statement, called on Washington to immediately halt deployment of THAAD in South Korea. The statement, not incorrectly, said Washington was using North Korea as a pretext to expand its military infrastructure in Asia and risked upsetting the strategic balance of power in the region.
Meanwhile, in North Korea, KCNA news gency reported that Kim Jong Un visited a mausoleum honouring state founder Kim Il Sun on Saturday, the anniversary of his grandfather's death. He was joined by military officials who contributed to the success of the ICBM test, the news agency said. It was unclear if he was planning any further ICBM launches in the immediate future.