A US B-1B strategic bomber will take part in ongoing joint air exercises with South Korea on Saturday, a Defense Ministry official in Seoul told AFP, a show of force after a flash of missile launches by North Korea.
Pyongyang’s spate of launches on Wednesday and Thursday included an intercontinental ballistic missile and one that landed near South Korea’s territorial waters for the first time since the end of the Korean War in 1953.
The United States and South Korea have warned the string of launches could culminate in a nuclear test by North Korea, and in response extended their biggest-ever air force drills to Saturday.
A South Korean Defense Ministry official told AFP that a US Air Force B-1B strategic bomber would take part in the final day of drills called Vigilant Storm, originally scheduled for Monday through Friday this week.
“B-1B is to attend afternoon training,” the official said, without giving further details.
The show of force came a day after South Korea deployed fighter jets in response to the mobilization of 180 North Korean fighter jets.
Pyongyang has stepped up missile launches in protest at US-South Korea air exercises. Such drills have long infuriated North Korea, which sees them as rehearsals for an invasion.
Pyongyang had called Vigilant Storm an “aggressive and provocative military exercise against” North Korea and said the United States and South Korea would “pay the most terrible price in history” if they proceeded.
North Korea is particularly sensitive to these drills, experts say, as its air force is one of the weakest links in its military, lacking high-tech jets and well-trained pilots.
Pyongyang has in the past been particularly angered by the use of strategic US weapons such as B-1Bs and aircraft carrier strike groups deployed on and near the Korean peninsula during times of high tension.
Although no longer carrying nuclear weapons, the B-1B is described by the US Air Force as “the backbone of America’s long-range bomber,” capable of striking anywhere in the world.
The United States on Friday attacked China and Russia outside the UN Security Council for “enabling” North Korea.
US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield dismissed criticism of the exercises with South Korea as North Korean “propaganda” and said they posed no threat to other countries.