US, S.Korea begin largest-ever joint air drill

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Seoul: As a warning to North Korea over its latest intercontinental ballistic missile test, the US and South Korea began their largest-ever Air Force exercise involving some 230 warplanes including F-22 Raptors as well as F-35 Lightning II fighters, cloaked with the world’s most advanced stealth coating here on Monday.

The five-day Vigilant Air Combat Exercise (ACE) came less than a week after the North fired a new ICBM and declared the completion of its “nuclear force”. It is the largest-ever combined Air Force drill between the allies, involving around six F-22 Raptors, six F-35As and 12,000 personnel.

While the North Korean military maintains capable anti-air weaponry, its radar systems would be unable to detect the F-22s and F-35s, which are cloaked with the world’s most advanced stealth coating, before a strike on those defensive systems, CNN reported.

Reacting to the move, the North Korea state media said that “ceaseless large-scale war games” by Washington and Seoul are “creating a situation that a nuclear war may break out any moment”.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said it was “regrettable” that all parties had not “grasped the window of opportunity” presented by two months of relative calm before the North’s most recent test.

It marks the first time that six Raptors have joined an exercise simultaneously in Korea. A dozen F-35Bs operated by the US Marine Corps will take part in the training.

F-35 fighters, the Pentagon’s most powerful warplanes, will include the largest number of 5th generation fighters ever to have taken part, according to a South Korea-based US Air Force spokesman.

Other assets include two B-1B Lancer bombers, six EA-18G Growler electronic warfare jets, and dozens of F-15C and F-16 fighter jets. The two sides plan to fly the aircraft at eight South Korean and US military installations, according to the US Seventh Air Force.

South Korea fielded F-15K, KF-16, FA-50 and F-5 fighters, as well as other planes.

The North Korean commentary published in state newspaper Rodong Sinmun on Sunday said the aerial war games showed “the enemies’ moves to start a nuclear war have reached a dangerous stage”.

“It is an open, all-out provocation against the DPRK, which may lead to a nuclear war any moment,” it stated.

The exercises came less than a week after Pyongyang fired off an intercontinental ballistic missile it claimed can reach the “whole” mainland of the US.

In reaction, US President Donald Trump said that additional major sanctions would be imposed on North Korea. Earlier, he had also put Pyongyang back on a list of state sponsors of terrorism.

North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country on Sunday called Trump “insane” and said the drills would “push the already acute situation on the Korean peninsula to the brink of nuclear war”.

Russia had also accused the US of trying to provoke North Korean leader Kim Jong-un into “flying off the handle” over his missile programme to hand Washington a pretext to destroy his country.

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