March 12, 2018 09:18
A massive U.S. amphibious assault ship carrying F-35B stealth fighter jets will take part in a joint South Korea-U.S. landing exercise early next month for the first time.
The decision comes amid calls to scale back the drills as summits between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and the South Korean and U.S. presidents loom.
The landing exercise will be more than twice as large as last year's, reflecting Washington's determination to keep up maximum pressure on the North until substantial progress in denuclearization efforts is made.
The joint annual exercises kick off late this month. As part of the Foal Eagle combined field training exercise, they will also stage the landing exercise in Pohang, North Gyeongsang Province early next month.
The USS Wasp (LHD-1), a 41,000-ton amphibious assault ship deployed in Sasebo, Japan, is going to come with F-35B stealth vertical-take-off and vertical-landing jets. But no nuclear-powered aircraft carrier or B-1B bombers will be involved.
The North has reacted almost as sensitively to F-35Bs as to other American strategic weapons in the past because they are capable of avoiding radar detection and striking strategic targets with pinpoint accuracy.
The Wasp amphibious assault ship could be a key weapon in a preemptive strike against the North and has taken part in the joint landing drills several times. But it will carry the stealth jets for the first time. The ship was deployed by the U.S. Forces Japan in January after it was remodeled to accommodate up to 20 F-35Bs last year, though it normally transports only six to eight.
Some other parts of the exercises have also been scaled up. While only about 2,000 South Korean and U.S. marines took part last year, this year they will number about 5,000.
Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon told KBS last Saturday, "Seoul and Washington could discuss a possible readjustment of joint drills, depending on the improvement in inter-Korean relations in the future."
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