USA flies supersonic bombers as a show of force against NKorea

SEOUL – The United States will fly a supersonic bomber over ally South Korea as part of a massive combined air exercise involving hundreds of warplanes to intimidate North Korea over its spate of ballistic missile tests this week that have escalated tensions in the region.

South Korea’s defense ministry said at least one B-1B bomber will take part in the final day of a joint US-South Korea air force exercise that ends on Saturday. South Korean and US military officials did not immediately provide further details.

Exercise “Vigilant Storm,” which involved about 240 warplanes, including advanced F-35 fighter jets from both countries, has prompted an angry response from North Korea. The North launched dozens of missiles into the sea this week, including an ICBM that prompted evacuation warnings in northern Japan, and flew its own warplanes within its territory.

North Korea’s foreign ministry late Friday described those military actions as an appropriate response to the Vigilant Storm, which it described as a display of US “military confrontation hysteria.” It said North Korea would respond with the “strongest countermeasures” to any attempts by “enemy forces” to violate its sovereignty or security interests.

B-1B overflights had been a well-known show of force during past periods of tension with North Korea. The planes last appeared in the region in 2017, during another provocative attack on North Korean gun demonstrations. But the flyovers had been halted in recent years when the United States and South Korea halted large-scale exercises in support of the Trump administration’s diplomatic efforts with North Korea and over COVID-19.

Allies resumed large-scale training this year as North Korea ramped up its weapons tests to a record pace, using a split in the UN Security Council deepened over Russia’s war in Ukraine to speed up weapons development.

North Korea hates such close-range demonstrations of American military might. The North has continued to refer to the B-1B as a “nuclear strategic bomber” despite the aircraft’s conversion to conventional weapons in the mid-1990s.

Vigilant Storm was originally scheduled to end on Friday, but the Allies decided to extend training to Saturday in response to a string of North Korean ballistic launches on Thursday, including an ICBM that triggered evacuation alerts and halted trains in northern Japan.

Thursday’s launches came after the North launched more than 20 missiles on Wednesday, the most it had launched in a single day. These launches came after senior North Korean military official Pak Jong Chon issued a veiled threat of a nuclear conflict with the United States and South Korea over their joint exercises, which the North said are rehearsals for a possible invasion.

South Korea also scrambled about 80 military planes on Friday after tracing about 180 flights of North Korean warplanes into North Korean territory. The South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the North Korean warplanes had been spotted in various areas inland and along the country’s east and west coasts, but had not come particularly close to the border with Korea. The South Korean military spotted about 180 flight tracks between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m., but it was not immediately clear how many North Korean planes were involved and whether some may have flown more than once.

In a statement Friday, attributed to an unidentified spokesman, North Korea’s foreign ministry said the United States and South Korea had created a seriously “unstable atmosphere” in the region with their military exercises. She accused the United States of mobilizing its allies in a campaign of sanctions and military threats to pressure North Korea into unilateral disarmament.

“The sustained provocation must inevitably be followed by a sustained counter-action,” the statement said.

North Korea has launched dozens of ballistic missiles this year, including several ICBMs and an intermediate-range ballistic missile flown over Japan. South Korean officials say there are indications North Korea could detonate its first nuclear test device since 2017 in the coming weeks, according to a position of strength.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission. USA flies supersonic bombers as a show of force against NKorea

Sarah Y. Kim

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