The United States flew a pair of long-range, supersonic bombers over the Korean peninsular during a joint drill with South Korea on Monday, drawing accusations from Pyongyang that the exercise is designed to practice dropping nuclear bombs on them.
A South Korean official announced the drill Tuesday, but gave no further details. The Korean Central News Agency, North Korea’s state media outlet, claims the B-1B’s flew near Gangneung, an eastern city near the Military Demarcation Line.
Soon after the North test-fired a short-range ballistic missile, the two bombers flew in airspace over the East Sea at around 10:30 a.m. along with South Korean F-15K fighter jets, according to the Yonhap News Agency.
The exercise was clearly a show of force against North Korea, which has been test-firing missiles regularly over the past few months. Obviously, Pyongyang respond too kindly.
“Such military provocations of the U.S. imperialists is a dangerous reckless racket for bringing the situation on the Korean peninsula to the brink of a war,” it said in a statement, per Yonhap:
The military action “clearly proves that their talk about ‘dialogue’ is nothing but hypocrisy to disarm the DPRK and their wild ambition to eliminate the DPRK with nukes remains unchanged even a bit,” the KCNA argued, using the acronym of the North’s official name.
It reiterated the North Korean military’s strongly worded war threat.
“The U.S. imperialist warmongers should not forget even a moment that their increasing danger of a nuclear war on the Korean peninsula would precipitate a disaster which the U.S. mainland turns into a scorched-earth,” it said.
The B-1B can reach Korea in two and half hours from Guam. With a payload of 75,000 pounds, the bomber can carry 24 2,000-pound Mk-84 general purpose bombs, up to 84 500-pound Mk-62 or eight 2,000-pound Mk-65 Quick Strike naval mines, among other armaments. It can reach speeds of 900-plus mph (or Mach 1.2 at sea level). North Korea has long accused the U.S. of threatening to start a nuclear war, but the B-1B hasn’t been used for nuclear missions since 1994. Though it was still nuclear-capable until 2007. Between the original START and New START treaties, the bomber began its conversion to being a conventional aircraft.
Per a fact sheet by the U.S. Air Force, here is how the conversion took place:
During the first step a metal cylindrical sleeve was welded into the aft attachment point of each set of B-1 pylon attachments. This prevented installing B-1 Air Launched Cruise Missile pylons.
During the second step two nuclear armament-unique cable connectors in each of the B-1 weapons bays were removed. This prevented the pre-arm signal from reaching the weapons.
But, of course, the North has no reason to believe the B-1B isn’t nuclear. I mean, it used to be.
Either way, the deployment of the bombers prove the U.S. going tit-for-tat with the Pyongyang’s missile testing. Though, the real concern is how much of a power keg the situation is (as in Kim Jong-Un and Donald Trump presiding over militaries, let alone possessing nuclear codes) and will more military exercises exacerbate tensions to the point of no return.