Just before North Korea’s foreign minister was due to address the United Nations, the Pentagon announced that U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer bombers escorted by fighter jets flew in international airspace over waters east of North Korea on Saturday, in a show of force which "demonstrated the range of military options available to President Donald Trump." The flight was the farthest north of the demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea that any U.S. fighter jet or bomber has flown in the 21st century, the Pentagon added.
B-1B Lancer prepares to take off from Andersen AFB, Guam, Sept. 23, 2017
According to Reuters, the B-1B Lancer bombers came from Guam and the U.S. Air Force F-15C Eagle fighter escorts came from Okinawa, Japan. The Pentagon saod the operation showed the seriousness with which it took North Korea’s “reckless behavior.”
“This mission is a demonstration of U.S. resolve and a clear message that the President has many military options to defeat any threat,” said Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White, calling North Korea’s weapons program “a grave threat" adding that “we are prepared to use the full range of military capabilities to defend the U.S. homeland and our allies.”
#PACOM stands prepared to use our full range of military capabilities to defend the U.S. homeland and our allies if called upon to do so.— U.S. Pacific Command (@PacificCommand) September 23, 2017
The DMZ is a strip of land running across the Korean Peninsula near the 38th Parallel, separating North Korea from South Korea. It was created in 1953, following the armistice which ended the Korean War.
The patrols came after officials and experts said a small earthquake near North Korea’s nuclear test site on Saturday was probably not man-made, easing fears Pyongyang had exploded another nuclear bomb just weeks after its last one. Reversing its original assessment, China’s Earthquake Administration said the quake was not a nuclear explosion and had the characteristics of a natural tremor.
While the US has flown similar sorties before, according to The Aviationist, the show of force is a bit more interesting than usual, for four reasons:
- it is the farthest north of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) any U.S. fighter or bomber aircraft have flown off North Korea’s coast in the 21st century;
- unlike all the previous ones, the latest sortie was flown at night, hence it was not a show of force staged to take some cool photographs;
- no allied aircraft is known to have taken part in the mission at the time of writing, whereas most of the previous B-1 missions near the Korean Peninsula involved also ROKAF (Republic Of Korea Air Force) and/or JASDF (Japan’s Air Self Defense Force) jets;
- it was a U.S. Air Force job: no U.S. Marine Corps F-35B stealth jet took part in the show of force this time, even though the STOVL (Short Take Off Vertical Landing) variant of the Joint Strike Fighter has taken part in all the most recent formations sent over Korea to flex muscles against Pyongyang. The photo here below shows the “package” assembled for Sept. 14’s show of force.