US strategic bombers participated in joint air exercises with South Korean troops on Sunday, the same day North Korea conducted a suspected ballistic missile test, the South Korean military said.
The exercise included U.S. B-1B strategic bombers, South Korean Air Force F-35A stealth fighters and U.S. Air Force F-16 fighters, and was part of the joint exercise Freedom Shield, the military said in a press release. .
News of the exercise came on the same day North Korea launched a suspected ballistic missile into the sea between the Korean peninsula and Japan shortly after 11 a.m. local time, according to Japan’s Defense Ministry and South Korea’s military.
However, the South Korean defense ministry would not confirm whether the air exercise with the US bombers took place before or after the missile launch.
“The South Korea-US alliance maintains the best combined defense position in light of North Korea’s continued regional instability,” the South Korean military said in a statement.
“Going forward, we will realize ‘Peace through Strength’ and enhance the credibility of the US comprehensive deterrent based on the solid capabilities and attitude of the alliance,” it added.
The suspected ballistic missile launched by North Korea on Sunday reached a maximum altitude of about 50 km (31 mi) and flew a distance of about 800 km (497 mi), according to Japan’s defense ministry. It was fired from the Dongchang-ri area in North Korea’s North Pyongan province and landed in the sea between the Korean peninsula and Japan, according to the South Korean military.
After the missile landed, the Japanese Coast Guard alerted all ships to await further information; do not approach fallen objects; and to report suspicious activity.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said the military had stepped up surveillance and vigilance in preparation for additional launches “while maintaining a full state of readiness through close cooperation with the US.”
North Korea often responds to what it considers “provocations” by the US by issuing warmongering threats. Its leader Kim Jong Un has accused the US and South Korea of increasing tensions with their joint military exercises.
The latest launch follows a spate of missile tests by North Korea, including one of a long-range ballistic missile on Thursday when leaders from South Korea and Japan met in Tokyo, and the firing of two cruise missiles. days before from a submarine and two short-range ballistic missiles.
Both the Japanese and South Korean governments strongly condemned Sunday’s missile launch, which they said was a “clear violation of UN Security Council resolutions”.
Pyongyang’s repeated launches “threaten the peace and security of Japan, the region and the international community,” Japan’s defense ministry said in a statement.
The joint spring military exercises between the United States and South Korea are the largest war games the Allies have staged in five years.
Ahead of the 11-day Freedom Shield exercises, North Korea had threatened to take the “hardest counter-action against the most vicious plots by the US and its minions”.
On Saturday, North Korea claimed that about 800,000 of its citizens had volunteered to join or re-enlist in the country’s military to fight against the United States.
The state newspaper Rodong Sinmun reported on Saturday that about 800,000 students and workers across the country on Friday alone had expressed a desire to enlist or re-enlist in the military to counter the United States.
Experts say that, in addition to joint military exercises and this week’s meeting between South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese leader Fumio Kishida, Pyongyang has objected to US President Joe Biden’s plan to kill Yoon and his wife next month to be received at the White House. .
The state visit will be the second of the Biden presidency, underlining the close ties between the US and South Korea, and will take place on April 26. Conservative Yoon and his administration have made strengthening the alliance between the US and South Korea a major foreign policy priority. Biden has likewise sought to nurture the relationship, including with the symbolic milestone of his trip to Seoul in May 2022, his first stop on his inaugural trip to Asia as president.
Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, recently told CNN that in response to the exercises and summits, Pyongyang “might order missiles to be fired over longer ranges, try to launch a spy satellite, will demonstrate a solid fuel engine, and may even conduct a nuclear test.”