US strategic bombers take part in air exercise with South Korea

The United States and South Korea held a joint air exercise involving US strategic bombers on Sunday, a day after North Korea fired a Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in a “sudden launching drill”. South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the exercise, where South Korea’s F-35A, F-15K and US F-16 fighters escorted American B-1B bombers, demonstrated the allies’ “overwhelming” defence capabilities and readiness posture. “(The exercise) strengthened the combined operation capability and affirmed the United States’ ironclad commitment to the defence of the Korean Peninsula and the implementation of extended deterrence,” the South’s military said in a statement. Japan’s Fuji News Network said Japan and the United States were also likely to conduct a joint air drill as early as Sunday afternoon.

The US-South Korea exercise comes a day after North Korea launched a long-range ballistic missile into the sea off Japan’s west coast, following a warning of a strong response to upcoming military drills by South Korea and the United States. South Korea’s military said it detected the missile at 5:22pm (0822 GMT). “The important bit here is that the exercise was ordered day-of, without warning to the crew involved,” said Ankit Panda, a missile expert at the Washington based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Analysts say North Korea is likely to conduct more weapons tests, including a possible new solid-fuel missile which could help the North deploy its missiles faster in the event of a war. North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programmes are banned under UN Security Council resolutions, but Pyongyang says its weapons development is necessary to counter “hostile policies” by Washington and its allies.

Japan, US military drill

Japan’s Ground Self-Defence Force and the US Marine Corps allowed media outlets to view their joint drill designed to defend and recapture remote Japanese islands, the Asahi Shimbun reported. The “Iron Fist” drill was held at the GSDF Hijiudai training site in Oita Prefecture, the first one staged west of Hawaii, according to the Ground Staff Office. The Iron Fist drills, which date back to fiscal 2005, had previously all been held in the United States.

In the scenario for the Feb 18 drill, an enemy force takes control of a remote island. After an aerial and naval attack against the enemy, GSDF amphibious vehicles land on the island to secure a position to repel the invaders. US Marines then descend from Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft for a cleanup operation. Media representatives could watch two Ospreys flying at the Hijiudai site with a low-pitched sound. Marines disembarked from the rear hatch of the aircraft and made their way to a zone supposedly occupied by enemy forces. GSDF training involving the Osprey and parachute drops scheduled for that day were canceled due to bad weather.

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