U.S. sends bombers as a signal in skies near Korea
The United States deployed six bomber planes to fly near the Korean Peninsula this week to demonstrate its capacity to defend its allies, according to the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command.
The planes, four B-1B Lancers and two B-2 Spirit stealth bombers from Guam and the continental United States, flew across the airspace above the Korea Strait and Japan on Monday, a day before Seoul and Washington kicked off their summertime combined military exercises.
"Our unique strength as an Air Force is our ability to generate integrated actions with our joint teammates and allies and partners to challenge competitors in a time and place of our choosing," said Gen. Kenneth Wilsbach, commander of the Pacific Air Forces.
"These simultaneous airpower missions demonstrated our capacity and readiness to deliver a wide range of proactive, scalable options to quickly deploy our forces to support our mission of ensuring a free and open Indo-Pacific theater."
According to the command, two of the B-1 bombers flew from Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota to the East Sea, where they jointed planes from the Japan Air Self-Defense Force. The other two B-1s took off from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam, said a press release from the Command.
The B-2 bombers were launched from the U.S. Naval Support Facility in Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.
Four F-15C Eagles deployed form the Kadena Air Base in Japan joined the four planes — the U.S. Navy’s Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group, F-35 Lightening IIs also from Japan and Tokyo’s F-15J fighter jets — to conduct joint air drills, the report added.
The mission “demonstrates our unwavering commitment to regional defense agreements with our allies and partners,” said U.S. Navy Rear Adm. George Wikoff, Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group commander.
In coordination with the computerized command post joint drill held with South Korea, this large-scale air exercise with planes sent from its bases across the world relays a warning to North Korea against potential provocations.
But the message appeared to be primarily aimed at a more formidable adversary — China, which last week conducted massive naval and air exercises near Taiwan with the purpose of “safeguarding its national sovereignty,” according to its military spokesman.
In South Korea, the command post joint drills were launched Tuesday and are scheduled to continue until Aug. 28.
While the allies initially planned to use the exercises as an opportunity to test Seoul’s full operational capability (FOC) to lead combined forces ahead of an envisioned transfer of wartime operational control (Opcon), the coronavirus pandemic forced them to scale down the drills and effectively postpone the FOC assessment.
Instead, the drills were to be focused on maintaining the allies’ combined defense posture, South Korea’s military said Sunday, apparently in line with earlier suggestions from U.S. Forces Korea Commander Gen. Robert Abrams.
The two countries earlier this year were forced to cancel their springtime joint drills for the same reason, putting a damper on South Korea’s timetable to retrieve Opcon from the United States by the end of President Moon Jae-in’s term in 2022.
Controversy was also raised about the naming of the drills, which South Korean Ministry of National Defense printouts called “2020-2 CCPT,” using an acronym that stands for Combined Command Post Training.
The omission of the words South Korea and United States in the name highlighted the unclear nature and purpose of the drills, said Shin Beom-chul, director of the Center for Diplomacy and Security at the Korea Research Institute for National Strategy.
BY SHIM KYU-SEOK, PARK YONG-HAN, LEE KEUN-PYUNG [email@example.com]