SEOUL, Dec. 20 (UPI) — The United States and South Korea conducted joint air drills on Tuesday involving American B-52 bombers and F-22 stealth fighters, Seoul’s defense ministry said, days after North Korea launched a pair of medium-range ballistic missiles.
The exercises were held in the South Korean air defense identification zone southwest of Jeju Island, the ministry said in a press release.
The United States deployed B-52 strategic bombers and F-22 stealth fighters for training drills with South Korean F-35A and F-15K fighter jets in order to “reinforce the credibility of U.S. extended deterrence,” the ministry said.
“Extended deterrence” is the American commitment to use all capabilities, including nuclear, to defend South Korea.
The F-22 fighters were sent from Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan, and will conduct separate exercises with the South’s F-35A jets to improve “capabilities to respond to North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats,” the ministry added.
The joint drills followed North Korea’s launch of two medium-range ballistic missiles on Sunday, according to an assessment by the South Korean military.
Pyongyang claimed that it was testing its first reconnaissance satellite, which drew skepticism from defense officials and analysts. North Korea has previously used satellite launches as cover for tests related to its banned intercontinental ballistic missile program.
In a statement carried by state-run Korean Central News Agency, Kim also appeared to threaten an upcoming ICBM launch at a trajectory that could prove the missile’s ability to reach the United States mainland.
All of Pyongyang’s eight ICBM launches so far this year have been at lofted angles, with analysts divided about whether North Korea’s long-range missiles are capable of successfully re-entering the earth’s atmosphere with a nuclear warhead.
“I can clear up their doubt about it,” Kim said in the statement. “They will immediately recognize it in case we launch an ICBM in the way of real angle firing straight off. I think that they would be well advised to halt their nonsense and think twice.”
Last week, the North claimed it successfully tested a solid-fuel engine for a “new-type strategic weapon system.”
Experts believe that the North Korean regime is looking to perfect a solid-fuel ICBM, which could be launched more quickly than its current liquid-fuel version.