US strategic planes make muscle-flexing flight along inter-Korean border

By Lim Chang-won Posted : September 18, 2017, 18:24 Updated : September 18, 2017, 18:24

A picture released by South Korea's air force shows US F-35B stealth fighters involved in a bombing drill. [Yonhap News Photo]

In an apparent show of force to North Korea, US stealth fighters and strategic bombers made a muscle-flexing flight along the heavily armed inter-Korean border after staging a joint bombing drill with South Korean fighters, military authorities said.

The flight involving four US Marine Corps F-35B fighters with radar reflectors and two B-1B bombers followed a joint drill with South Korean planes including four F-15K jet fighters, according to military officials.

It was part of a regular drill "to demonstrate the deterrence of an allied force between South Korea and the United States against North Korea's nuclear and missile threats", the defense ministry said in a statement, adding the drill tested a "quick" response by South Korean and US air assets to an emergency situation.

At Monday's exercise, the US and South Korean planes dropped inert or mock bombs onto a shooting range in Taebaek, Yonhap News agency said, adding two US F-16 jets and three KC-135 tanker refueling planes were also mobilized.

South Korea and the United States pledged a strong response after North Korea launched a Hwasong-12 intermediate range ballistic missile that flew the about 3,700 kilometers (2,294 miles) over the territory of Japan.

In response, South Korea fired a Hyunmoo-2 ballistic missile in a simulated strike on the origin of North Korea's missile launch that demonstrated the North's ability to attack Guam, home to US strategic bombers including B-1Bs capable of carrying nuclear weapons.

There are about 28,000 US troops stationed in South Korea. Extra US military assets and personnel come from abroad for regular joint drills that Washington and Seoul insist are purely defensive in nature, but which Pyongyang condemns as provocative rehearsals for an attack on the North.

Meanwhile, the South's defense ministry said in a report to parliament that North Korea has neared the final stage of developing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). "(North Korea) has neared the final stage of securing ICBM capabilities."

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has said that Pyongyang's final goal is to establish an "equilibrium" of military force with the United States, according to the country's state media.

"We should clearly show the big power chauvinists how our state attains the goal of completing its nuclear force despite their limitless sanctions and blockade," Kim was quoted as saying. "Our final goal is to establish the equilibrium of real force with the US and make the US rulers dare not talk about military option."

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