April 24, 2020 09:56
The U.S. and South Korea are conducting low-key aerial drills after canceling annual large-scale exercises of this kind for the past two years.
They resumed joint air exercises after North Korea's latest missile provocations.
"We have been conducting a battalion-level air exercise since Monday and will continue until Friday," a military spokesman here said on Thursday. They involve South Korean F-15K and KF-16 fighter jets as well as U.S. F-16 fighters, but the state-of-the-art F-35A stealth fighter jets are apparently not involved.
A South Korean Air Force source said, "We made plans for the joint exercises early this year. They are aimed at improving joint missions between the two allies, and their scale is similar to those held in previous years."
But other military sources said they are specifically aimed at sending a warning to North Korea. When Seoul and Washington decided to postpone a joint aerial drill last November, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said, "We have made this decision as an act of goodwill to contribute to an environment conducive to diplomacy and the advancement of peace."
But this was not reciprocated.
The U.S. also deployed B-1B bombers earlier this month for joint drills with Japan's Air Self-Defense Force.
The latest South Korea-U.S. drills started a day after rumors emerged that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is in critical condition following cardiovascular surgery.
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