South Korea said a B-52 bomber will fly over the Korean peninsula today for the second time this month as part of the U.S. effort to send a signal to North Korea after it threatened preemptive nuclear strikes.
“Just having the B-52 near the Korean peninsula and pass through means that the U.S. nuclear umbrella can be provided whenever necessary,” South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min Seok told reporters in Seoul, declining to disclose today’s flight time. The bombers carry air-to-ground missiles with a range of up to 3,000 kilometers (1,864 miles) and “are believed to deliver nuclear warheads,” he said.
The first B-52 flight came on March 8 as part of joint U.S.-South Korea military drills, Defense Department spokesman George Little said yesterday in a statement, adding such flights “are routine.” Deputy defense secretary Ashton Carter in Seoul yesterday reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to deter North Korea independent of its multi-billion dollar defense budget cuts.
The U.S. is increasing its defense capability against North Korea since the regime this month threatened preemptive nuclear strikes against its enemies in response to tightening United Nations sanctions. Tensions on the peninsula are the highest since at least 2010, and China yesterday criticized U.S. plans to bolster its regional anti-missile shield.
“We are drawing attention to the fact we have extended deterrence capabilities that we believe are important to demonstrate in the wake of recent North Korean rhetoric,” Little said yesterday in a statement.
North Korea today called the U.S. a “wrecker of peace” and said the military drills are interfering with efforts to improve its impoverished economy.
“A state of hypertensity has dawned upon these lands, facing war, not peace,” according to a statement from the official Korean Central News Agency.
South Korean President Park Geun Hye reiterated that her government will “firmly respond” to any provocation, while promising to give aid to North Korea if it gives up nuclear weapons and “chooses the right path,” according to a statement on her website.
The U.S. flew the bomber out of Andersen Air Force Base in Guam in the first week of the annual two-month Foal Eagle exercise between the U.S. and South Korean forces.
“We are in the midst right now of sending a very strong signal that we have a firm commitment to the alliance with our Republic of Korea allies,” Little said. “This is a stepped-up training effort to demonstrate our resolve to protect South Korea.”
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said March 15 that he will shift $1 billion from a European missile shield to install 14 additional missile interceptors in Alaska against threats by Iran and North Korea. Russia has dismissed the move, muffling hopes of arms control advocates that U.S. and Russia could improve relations and revive talks on reducing their nuclear arsenals.