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U.S. strategic bombers flying from Guam linked up with Japanese and South Korean fighter jets Sunday in a display of the allies’ ability to project “overwhelming force” after North Korea’s second successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile.

The U.S. Pacific Air Forces said that the 10-hour “sequenced bilateral missions,” which involved two U.S. Air Force B-1B bombers and Air Self-Defense Force and South Korean Air Force fighters, were a “direct response” to North Korea’s ICBM launches on July 4 and Friday.

“North Korea remains the most urgent threat to regional stability,” Pacific Air Forces commander Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy said in a statement. “Diplomacy remains the lead; however, we have a responsibility to our allies and our nation to showcase our unwavering commitment while planning for the worst-case scenario. If called upon, we are ready to respond with rapid, lethal, and overwhelming force at a time and place of our choosing.”

After taking off from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam, the B-1Bs entered Japanese airspace, where they were joined by two ASDF fighter jets, the statement said. The B-1Bs then flew over the Korean Peninsula where they were joined by four South Korean fighters.

Before returning to Guam, the B-1Bs performed a low-pass over Osan Air Base near the South Korean capital.

In Tokyo, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, who also is doubling as acting defense chief, said the ASDF had carried out the joint drill in airspace over waters west of Kyushu and around the Korean Peninsula.

Kishida said the drill was aimed at “further strengthening the deterrent power and coping abilities of the entire Japan-U.S. alliance and showing Japan’s will and advanced capabilities for stabilizing the regional situation” under the current security environment.

South Korea hosts 28,500 U.S. troops as part of the two countries’ security alliance. North and South Korea are technically still at war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice and not a formal peace treaty.

North Korea test-fired its second intercontinental ballistic missile in less than a month late Friday, with experts concluding that the launch flew higher and longer than the first and now puts a large chunk of the United States — including Chicago and Los Angeles — within range of Pyongyang’s ever-improving weapons systems.

The Japanese Defense Ministry said the missile reached an estimated altitude of more than 3,500 km and traveled about 1,000 km, landing inside Japan’s exclusive economic zone, some 150 km northwest of Okushiri Island, a tiny islet about 20 km off the coast of Hokkaido.

The rare nighttime launch was fired on a very high or “lofted” trajectory, which limited the distance it traveled.

The missile flew for about 45 minutes, a flight that would put it about five minutes longer than the North’s first test of its ICBM, known as the Hwasong-14, on July 4.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who observed Friday’s test, said it shows that the country now has the ability to launch a surprise attack on the entire United States, state media reported.

“The test-fire reconfirmed the reliability of ICBM system, demonstrated the capability of making surprise launch of ICBM in any region and place any time, and clearly proved that the whole U.S. mainland is in the firing range of the DPRK missiles,” the official Korean Central News Agency quoted Kim as saying.

The report said that Kim had expressed “great satisfaction” after the missile hit a maximum altitude of 3,725 km and traveled 998 km before accurately landing in waters off Japan. KCNA said the test was aimed at confirming the maximum range and other technical aspects of the missile it claimed was capable of delivering a “large-sized, heavy nuclear warhead.”

DPRK is the acronym for the North’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

While analysts had said the July 4 ICBM test could have struck parts of Alaska, some experts said the latest launch had significantly expanded the range.

David Wright, co-director of the U.S.-based Union of Concerned Scientists, said that based on the current information, the missile “could easily reach the U.S. West Coast and a number of major U.S. cities.”

Assuming the altitude and distance traveled are correct, he said, the missile would have a maximum range of about 10,400 km if flown on a standard trajectory.

“Los Angeles, Denver and Chicago appear to be well within range of this missile, and Boston and New York may be just within range,” Wright said. “Washington, D.C., may be just out of range.”

However, he cautioned that this was dependent on a number of variables, including the size and weight of the warhead that would be carried atop the missile.

The North has unleashed a spate of missile tests in recent years, including 13 so far this year, according to a database compiled by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in California.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has characterized Pyongyang’s frequent missile tests as “a new level of threat” and has vowed to work with the international community to tackle the issue.

Information from Jiji added

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