The United States and South Korea wrapped up their annual joint military exercises Thursday by flying some of their most powerful warplanes in bombing drills in a show of force two days after North Korea fired a ballistic missile over Japan.
Two B-1B supersonic bombers and four F-35 stealth fighter jets from the U.S. Air Force and Marine Corps joined four South Korean F-15 fighter jets in live-fire bombing exercises over a military range in eastern South Korea, officials said.
On their way to join the South Korean jets, the U.S. warplanes flew together with two F-15s from Japan’s Self-Defense Forces over waters near the southwestern Japanese island of Kyushu, the U.S. Pacific Command said in a statement.
“This complex mission clearly demonstrates our solidarity with our allies and underscores the broadening cooperation to defend against this common regional threat,” said Gen. Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, commander of the U.S. Pacific Air Forces, referring to North Korea.
South Korean F-15s conducted a similar bombing drill over the same range on Tuesday, hours after a Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile from North Korea flew over northern Japan and splashed into the Pacific after a flight of nearly 1,700 miles.
North Korea’s test on Tuesday marked the first time that a missile from the North had flown over another country. Its leader, Kim Jong Un, said on Wednesday that the test could be a “curtain raiser” for more such tests in the Pacific. The missile test rattled a region increasingly concerned about North Korea’s fast-advancing missile capabilities and its increasingly bold way of demonstrating them.
Kim said that he would watch the United States’ actions before deciding whether to conduct more missile tests, including in waters around Guam, a U.S. territory that is home to Andersen Air Force Base, from which the B-1B Lancer bombers participating in the drills on Thursday took off. The F-35 jets flew from a U.S. base in Iwakuni, Japan.
Hours after Kim’s warning, the United States conducted what it called a previously planned missile-defense test, intercepting a medium-range ballistic missile fired from a Navy guided-missile destroyer off the coast of Hawaii.
Also on Wednesday, President Donald Trump declared “talking is not the answer” to resolving the prolonged standoff over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. But hours later, when asked by reporters if the United States was out of diplomatic solutions with North Korea, the U.S. secretary of defense, Jim Mattis, replied: “No.”
The Ulchi-Freedom Guardian, the 11-day joint military exercises the United States and South Korea completed Thursday, involved tens of thousands of U.S. and South Korean troops, although the exercises were conducted largely through computer simulations.
Whenever such joint exercises take place, North Korea accuses the South and the United States of preparing for an invasion and often conducts its own military exercises and missile tests.