US flies B-1B over South in show of force against N Korea

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – The United States flew a B-1B supersonic bomber over South Korea yesterday as part of a massive combined aerial exercise involving hundreds of warplanes, a clear warning after North Korea last week tested its biggest and most powerful missile yet.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the Guam-based bomber simulated land strikes at a military field near South Korea’s eastern coast during a drill with US and South Korean fighter jets.

“Through the drill, the South Korean and US air forces displayed the allies’ strong intent and ability to punish North Korea when threatened by nuclear weapons and missiles,” the military said in a statement.

B-1Bs flyovers have become an increasingly familiar show of force to North Korea, which after three intercontinental ballistic missile tests has clearly moved closer toward building a nuclear arsenal that could viably target the US mainland.

The five-day drills that began on Monday involve more than 200 aircraft, including six US F-22 and 18 F-35 stealth fighters.

In this photo provided by South Korea Defence Ministry, US Air Force B-1B bomber (right) flies over the Korean Peninsula with South Korean fighter jets and US fighter jets during the combined aerial exercise, in South Korea yesterday. – PHOTOS: AP

North Korea hates such displays of American military might at close range and claimed through its state media on Tuesday that the “US imperialist war mongers’ extremely reckless war hysteria” has put the region at risk of a nuclear war. The North continued to describe the B-1B a “nuclear strategic bomber” although the plane was switched to conventional weaponry in the mid-1990s.

North Korea typically uses strong language when commenting on US-South Korean war games, which it claims are invasion rehearsals. Still, perennially bad tensions are at a particularly dangerous point with North Korea rapidly advancing its nuclear weapons programme.

South Korea’s military says the Hwasong-15 the North tested last week has the potential to strike targets as far away as 13,000 kilometres, which would put Washington within reach. The test flight used an arched trajectory and the missile flew 950 kilometres before splashing down near Japan.

The North also tested a different inter-continental ballistic missile twice in July and conducted its most powerful nuclear test in September which it described as a detonation of a thermonuclear weapon designed for ICBMs.

A US soldier takes part in a joint aerial drill called Vigilant Ace between US and South Korea, at the Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea yesterday. The five-day drill is meant to improve the allies’ wartime capabilities and preparedness, South Korea Defence Ministry said