Advanced U.S. stealth fighters and strategic bombers linked up with Air Self-Defense Force aircraft in airspace near Okinawa Prefecture on Tuesday in some of the largest joint exercises since North Korea’s test of a long-range missile late last month, the ASDF said.

The exercise, which comes after Pyongyang’s Nov. 29 test of an intercontinental ballistic missile that experts believe is capable of striking the United States’ East Coast, was seen as yet another move to heap pressure on the regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

“The drill was meant to enhance joint operations abilities and raise combat skills,” the ASDF said in a statement.

Two U.S. B-1B heavy bombers from Andersen Air Force Base on the U.S. Pacific island territory of Guam joined six F-35 stealth fighters, four F/A-18 multirole combat jets and a tanker aircraft from U.S. bases in Japan for the exercise. The ASDF dispatched four F-15 fighters and a patrol aircraft.

Tuesday’s exercise was the latest military muscle-flexing by the allies that has included an exercise last week involving ASDF fighters and a B-1B bomber. In August, the U.S. sent two B-52 strategic bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons for a rare joint mission with the ASDF in the skies above Japan and near North Korea.

The increasingly frequent joint exercises have incensed Pyongyang, which views them as a rehearsal for invading the isolated country.

In a commentary Tuesday, the state-run Rodong Sinmun targeted Japan and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe over Tokyo’s close ties with the U.S. and its campaign of “maximum pressure” to rein in the North’s nuclear ambitions.

“The ulterior intention of Japan is to become a military giant and attain the reinvasion ambition, persisting in the pro-U.S. policy,” the commentary said.

“Japan is watching for a chance of reinvasion while whetting the sword of aggression with the backing of its master,” it added. “That is why Japan is talking about ‘outrage’ and ‘alert posture,’ dancing to the tune of the master’s moves to stifle the DPRK.”

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

“If Abe and other Japanese authorities persist in such reckless actions with the backing of the U.S, ignoring the changed reality, they will bring an irrevocable disaster to the archipelago,” the commentary threatened.


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