February 03, 2023 09:37
South Korea and the U.S. staged air drills in the West Sea with strategic bombers and stealth fighter jets on Wednesday after the two countries' defense chiefs met in Seoul.
The Defense Ministry on Thursday said, "The combined air drills show the U.S.' will and capability to provide strong and credible extended deterrence against the nuclear and missile threat from North Korea."
Two B-1B strategic bombers and a dozen F-22 and F35B stealth fighter jets and aerial refueling aircraft from the U.S. as well as South Korea's F35A stealth fighters took part in the drills.
Until recently, most drills with U.S. strategic bombers were conducted over the East Sea to avoid provoking China, so holding them in the West Sea and publicizing the fact marks a departure.
"Seoul and Washington want to warn Beijing against trying to claim the West Sea as its own sphere of activities through a drastic increase in its naval and air force operations there over the past few years," a military source said.
The U.S. is keen to reassure South Korea as doubts here grow over the reliability of the U.S. nuclear umbrella, giving rise to calls for Seoul to acquire its own nuclear weapons. U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in a press conference with Defense Minister Lee Song-sup on Tuesday pledged to deploy top-range weaponry here more often.
Video footage and pictures released by military authorities show two B-1Bs from the U.S. mainland escorted by two F-22s from Kadena Air Base in Okinawa and two F-35As from the South Korean Air Force. After the drills, the B-1Bs flew to Guam for another maneuver rather than returning directly to the U.S.
North Korea threatened to retaliate. A North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman said Pyongyang will "take the toughest reaction" in response to any military action by the U.S. under the principle of "nuke for nuke and an all-out confrontation." The statement added that Austin's pledge would end up turning the Korean Peninsula into a "huge war arsenal and a more critical war zone."
But the White House was unmoved. "We reject the notion that our joint exercises with partners in the region serve as any sort of provocation," it said. "We have made clear we have no hostile intent toward [North Korea] and seek serious and sustained diplomacy to address the full range of issues of concern to both countries and the region."
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