United States B-52 bombers carried out simulated nuclear bombing raids on North Korea as part of ongoing U.S.-South Korean military exercises, Pentagon officials said on Monday.
Pentagon press secretary George Little told reporters that B-52 bombers from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, conducted a training mission over South Korea March 8 during war games known as Exercise Foal Eagle.
“It’s not any secret that we are in the midst of sending a very strong signal that we have a firm commitment to the alliance with our South Korean allies,” Little said.
Deputy defense secretary Ashton Carter said during a visit to South Korea on Monday that the bomber flights are part of the U.S. “extended deterrence”—the use of U.S. nuclear forces to deter North Korea, which conducted its third underground nuclear test Feb. 12.
“I should note the presence of strategic bombers taking place in flight training in the Korea peninsula area in particular, for example, but this is routine. There will be a B-52 flight tomorrow,” Carter said in Seoul.
The bomber flights are part of increased training efforts that seek to show U.S. resolve in protecting South Korea, Little said.
The B-52 flights are part of the U.S. Pacific Command program called Continuous Bomber Presence.
Little said the Guam base has been used since 2004 for strategic bomber rotational deployments. “The B-52 Stratofortress can perform a variety of missions including carrying precision-guided conventional or nuclear ordnance,” Little said. “We will continue to fly these training missions as part of our ongoing actions to enhance our strategic posture in the Asia-Pacific region.”
It is unusual for the Pentagon to make such overt statements about the use of strategic nuclear forces in Asia Pacific.
The Foal Eagle maneuvers will highlight both nuclear and conventional capabilities of the B-52s, Little said, adding that the flights were routine.
“Despite challenges with fiscal constraints, training opportunities remain important to ensure U.S. and [South Korean] forces are battle-ready and trained to employ airpower to deter aggression, defend South Korea, and defeat any attack against the alliance,” he said.
The U.S. military until the early 1990s stored nuclear bombs and missiles in Guam but moved the bombs and missiles to the continental United States.
Two Russian strategic nuclear bombers identified as Tu-95 Bear Hs, were recently intercepted as they circled Guam in what analysts say was saber-rattling on the part of the Russians, who several years ago set up an anti-U.S. alliance with China called the Shanghai Cooperation Organization that includes several Asian and Southwest Asia states.
South Korean news reports last week also stated that U.S. nuclear missile submarines would remain near South Korean waters to provide another sign of U.S. nuclear deterrence.
The combined nuclear and conventional forces exercises began in early March as part of maneuvers called Key Resolve that involved around 13,000 U.S. and South Korean troops. A second round of exercises known as Foal Eagle will extend through the end of April.
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