The U.S. and South Korea held a combined air drill, which included a strategic bomber, South Korea’s military said Sunday, a day after North Korea launched an intercontinental ballistic missile into waters off Japan.
South Korean stealth fighters and jets flew together with American F-16 fighters to escort a B-1B bomber, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement Sunday.
“The training aimed at demonstrating the South Korea-U.S. combined defense capabilities and posture featuring the alliance’s overwhelming forces through the timely and immediate deployment of the U.S. extended deterrence assets to the Korean Peninsula," the statement said.
Japan also flew F-15s over the Sea of Japan with the U.S. Armed Forces’ B-1 bombers and F-16s in tactical exercises, Japan’s Defense Ministry said in a statement, according to Reuters.
The exercises, which were preplanned, came a day after North Korea fired a long-range ballistic missile from its capital Pyongyang into waters off Japan.
Calling it “an outrageous act,” Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Saturday that his country had “launched a very staunch protest” after the missile landed around 125 miles west of Oshima Island in his country's exclusive economic zone.
Confirming the launch on Sunday, North Korea’s state news agency KCNA reported that it had been directly ordered by the country’s leader Kim Jong-un.
KCNA later published a statement from Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong. It quoted her as saying that the missile would not be aimed at South Korea as “we still have no intention to stand face to face with them.”
She added that the U.S. should "stop all the actions posing threats to the security of our state," and warned of a “very powerful and overwhelming counteraction against its every move hostile to us,” according to KCNA.
North Korea is coming off a record year in weapons demonstrations with more than 70 ballistic missiles fired, including ICBMs with potential range to reach the U.S. mainland in 2022.
Saturday’s launch was only Pyongyang’s second in 2023, but it came after a massive military parade in Pyongyang last week, Kim demonstrated over a dozen ICBMs.
Yasukazu Hamada, Japan’s defense minister, told reporters that based on calculations it could have a range of almost 8,700 miles, “in which case, the entire United States would be within its range.”
Speaking after the launch on Saturday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the U.S. was “prepared to engage with North Korea without any preconditions” and that “our commitment to the security of our close allies and partners, South Korea and Japan, is ironclad.”
North Korea has insisted its testing activities are meant as a warning amid increased U.S. presence in the region. But some experts worry that Pyongyang also uses the drills as a chance to test new weapons, strengthen its nuclear capability, and increase its leverage in future dealings with Washington and Seoul.
Stella Kim reported from Los Angeles and Leila Sackur from London.