The United States and South Korea have launched a major air force drill involving hundreds of planes and more than 12,000 U.S. forces, military officials say. It comes amid heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
More than 230 aircraft – including six F-22 Raptors and six F-35As – are taking part in the exercise, which will last from Monday through Friday. They will conduct drills under various wartime scenarios, including simulated airstrikes on mock North Korean nuclear and missile targets, according to Yonhap.
The exercise, one of the largest ever of this type on the Korean Peninsula, comes less than a week after North Korea carried out its third long-range missile test. North Korea considers the joint military exercises to be a threat against the reclusive country.
“The Trump team is begging for nuclear war by staging an extremely dangerous nuclear gamble on the Korean peninsula,” a spokesman for North Korea’s foreign ministry said on Saturday, explaining that the massive air combat drills are driving the situation “to the brink of crisis.”
The U.S. Air Force said the exercise – which is called Vigilant Ace 18 – allows U.S. and South Korean air forces to enhance their cooperation. Vigilant Ace, which was previously known as Beverly Bulldog, is an annual exercise that was scheduled long before last week’s missile test in North Korea.
“In the event we need to help defend our 51 million Korean allies, I need to be sure the 51st Fighter Wing is synchronized with the Combined-Joint force,” said William Betts, the commander of the 51st Fighter Wing. “Vigilant Ace is an opportunity for us to do just that; focus on getting smarter, faster and more capable than we were yesterday while we generate combat airpower and strengthen the alliance.”
Betts added: “The threat here on the peninsula is very real, and countering that threat needs to be in the forefront of our minds. My biggest expectation for the Wing is to remove any ‘exercise’ mindset from the equation and maximize the realism of every response. We will ensure we have no regrets if we find ourselves executing contingency operations.”
Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have been escalating all year, fueled by North Korea’s frequent missile tests and its advancing nuclear weapons program, as well as U.S. military exercises and threatening statements by President Donald Trump.
North Korea test-fired two long-range missiles in July and a third in November which in theory is capable of reaching all parts of the U.S. mainland. North Korea also carried out its sixth and most advanced nuclear test to date on September 3, which led to a new round of UN sanctions.
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