North Korea lambasted the U.S. on Tuesday over the staging of what it called a “nuclear bomb-dropping drill” by flying a two B1-B strategic bombers close to its border with the South a day earlier.
In a report by the state-run Korean Central News Agency, the North claimed the B-1B bombers, which are currently deployed to Guam, flew over South Korea and approached an area 80 km east of Gangneung, an eastern city near the Military Demarcation Line that serves as the border between the two Koreas.
Moon Sang-gyun, a spokesman for the South Korean Defense Ministry, said the exercise took place on Monday but declined to give further details, Reuters reported Tuesday.
U.S. Pacific Command did not confirm or deny the joint exercises when contacted by The Japan Times via email.
“U.S. Pacific Command, through U.S. Pacific Air Forces, has maintained a rotational strategic bomber presence in the region for more than a decade,” spokeswoman Lt. Col Lori Hodge said.
“These Air Force aircraft and the men and women who fly and support them, provide a significant capability that enables our readiness and commitment to deterrence, provides assurances to our allies, and strengthens security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.”
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency, citing an unidentified government source in Seoul, said that two B-1Bs had arrived in the airspace over the Sea of Japan at around 10:30 a.m. Monday, five hours after the North test-fired a short-range ballistic missile.
The bombers were accompanied by South Korean F-15K fighter jets during the two-hour unannounced flight near and over the peninsula, the source said.
KCNA said the bombers were also joined by warplanes operating from the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier, which is currently operating in the Sea of Japan, for the “frantic” drill.
“Such military provocation of the U.S. imperialists is a dangerous reckless racket for bringing the situation on the Korean Peninsula to the brink of a war,” it said.
Originally developed as to carry atomic weapons, the bomber — converted to its exclusively conventional combat role in the mid-1990s — is no longer nuclear capable. It can, however, carry the largest payload of both guided and unguided weapons in the U.S. Air Force’s inventory.
On Monday, Japan’s Defense Ministry said that two Air Self-Defense Force F-15 fighter jets had held a joint exercise with the B-1B bombers in Kyushu region.
That exercise was apparently also aimed at heaping pressure on North Korea after its launch Monday was believed to have landed in waters within Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Traveling north together, the jets practiced flights at planned altitudes and speeds, with the drill wrapping up around noon.
After the drill, the B-1B bombers headed toward the Korean Peninsula, apparently on their way to a U.S. military base in South Korea, officials said.
In September, the U.S. flew two of the supersonic over South Korea — with one landing on the Korean Peninsula for the first time in 20 years — after the North’s fifth nuclear test.
The U.S. Air Force said at the time that the flight, which landed at Osan air base 40 km south of the capital, was the closest a B-1B strategic bomber had ever flown to the border between the Koreas.
Information from Jiji added
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