March 20 (Bloomberg) -- North Korea warned of “strong military counter-action” if the U.S. again flies B-52 bombers over the Korean peninsula, with two flights this month after the totalitarian regime threatened preemptive nuclear strikes.
The U.S. Pacific Air Forces Command successfully carried out the latest training flight, 7th Air Force spokeswoman Maj. Richelle Dowdell said in an e-mail yesterday without giving further details. A B-52 can carry nuclear warheads and air-to-ground missiles with a range of 3,000 kilometers (1,864 miles).
The U.S. is increasing its defense capability in the region after Kim Jong Un’s regime this month threatened to use atomic weapons in response to tougher United Nations sanctions. Tensions on the peninsula are the highest since at least 2010, with China also indirectly criticizing U.S. plans to bolster a regional anti-missile shield.
Yesterday’s sortie is an “unpardonable” provocation, introducing a mechanism to deliver a strategic nuclear strike to the Korean Peninsula “at a time when its situation is inching close to the brink of war,” an unidentified North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman said today in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.
The North is closely watching the situation and “the hostile forces will never escape its strong military counter-action” if the B-52s fly sorties over the the peninsula again, according to the KCNA statement.
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 in a March 18 statement. He said such flights are routine. The bomber was flown out of Andersen Air Force Base in Guam in the first week of the annual two-month Foal Eagle exercise which ends April 30.
“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. “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.”
Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter on March 18 announced during his visit to South Korea that a second flight would take place the next day. He traveled to Seoul to reaffirm the commitment to deter North Korea at a time the U.S. faces multi-billion dollar defense budget cuts.
Shifting Missile Shield
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said March 15 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 the U.S. and Russia could improve relations and revive talks on reducing their nuclear arsenals.
South Korean President Park Geun Hye yesterday reiterated her government’s stance to “firmly respond” to any attacks, 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.
To contact the reporter on this story: Sangwon Yoon in Seoul at firstname.lastname@example.org