The U.S. Air Force conducted joint bombing exercises with South Korea on Wednesday in another impressive show of military force just a week after North Korea tested an alleged intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) over Japan.
The exercises are part of an annual series of joint large-scale military exercises with South Korea that began on Monday, known as “Vigilante Ace,” involving 230 aircraft and about 12,000 service members from both countries.
South Korea’s Defense Ministry issued a statement saying the exercises were “aimed at enhancing the all-weather, day and night combined air power operation capabilities of South Korea and the U.S.” The operation in question has North Korea in mind and is aimed at practicing for any potential need to neutralize North Korean nuclear and missile targets.
On Wednesday, the U.S. showcased its immensely powerful four B-1B Lancer strategic bombers and six F-22 Raptor stealth fighter jets with a series of exercises alongside South Korean armory which began at the Pilsung Firing Range. Some of the exercises reportedly involved the simulation wartime scenarios that include neutralizing North Korean nuclear and missile targets.
“Through the exercise, the South Korean and U.S. air forces have demonstrated the alliance’s strong will and capability for strong retaliation against North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats,” the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.
North Korea’s foreign ministry responded to the exercises by accusing President Donald Trump of making an “extremely dangerous nuclear gamble” and “driving the situation of the Korean peninsula to the brink of crisis.”
North Korea alleged last week that it had successfully conducted another ICBM launch, shortly before once again threatening nuclear destruction for both South Korea and the United States.
However, military officials have denied the exercises are linked to recent tensions and claim the operation is an annual routine.
In recent months, U.S. and South Korean troops have undertaken many exercises designed to show North Korea of their military strength, although all appear to have failed to calm the rogue state’s nuclear ambitions.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in warned on Wednesday that the situation between the North and the South was “on thin ice” but that he remained optimistic about a peaceful solution to the escalating crisis.
“The South-North Korean relations are still not so good. The tension between the South and the North is at its peak, and so it is a very cautious situation as if we are walking on thin ice,” Moon told South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.
“But I am not all pessimistic,” he continued. “I believe a crisis may well turn into an opportunity, and the night is the darkest just before the dawn. When we overcome this ongoing crisis, I am sure it will turn into an opportunity to dramatically improve the South-North relations.”