Two United States Air Force B-1B bombers, accompanied by fighter jets from South Korea and Japan, flew over the Korean Peninsula on Thursday, according to a USAF statement.
The two bombers flew from Anderson Air Force Base in Guam and rendezvoused with the Japanese and South Korean fighter aircraft for a planned bilateral integration exercise. The bombers and its escorts even flew over South Korea.
According to Air Force spokesperson Captain Candice Dillitte, the “continuous bomber presence mission” was planned in advance and was “not in response to any current event.”
Today marks the start of a 12-day trip to five different Asian nations for U.S. President Donald Trump, and North Korea believes the B-1B bombers flight was a rehearsal prior to its arrival in the region.
Pyongyang, through its state-media outlet KCNA claimed the joint exercise was a “surprise nuclear strike drill targeting the DPRK.”
“On Thursday they let a formation of B-1B nuclear strategic bombers stationed at the Anderson Air Force Base on Guam stealthily fly into South Korea again to stage a surprise nuclear strike drill targeting the DPRK,” the KCNA news agency added.
However, the drills involving the two B-1B bombers and the fighter aircraft were simulated land attacks and did not involve any weapons. Since no weapons were used, I believe the exercise was aimed at training the three countries to fly to a designated area for a rendezvous, get into formation, and conduct a simulated attack. The exercise itself was more of a coordination training than a “surprised nuclear strike skill,” like Pyongyang affirmed.
Adding to that, the B-1B bomber is not capable of delivering nuclear weapons.
“The exterior attachment points, or the hard points, on the aircraft, were modified to prevent nuclear pylons from ever being attached to the jet,” said Master Sgt. Brian Hudson, a B-1 avionics manager at Air Force Global Strike Command.
“Within the weapons bays themselves, there were wire bundles that were cut and removed to prevent arming of the nuclear weapons. Finally, the last step was to destroy the pylons themselves,” Hudson said of the external equipment mounted to aircraft.
The conversion process was initiated under the START Treaty, and the final conversion took place in 2011, he said.
Pyongyang’s reaction was a pure propaganda statement to scare its people. While the B-1B bomber can pack a vast amount of firepower, it remains incapable of delivering a nuclear warhead. the strategic bomber would be most likely employed to destroy the artillery positions near the DMZ in a move to save Seoul from being destroyed by conventional artillery shells.
A possible nuclear test while President Trump is in Asia or reaction to B-1B bombers training?
The South Korean National Intelligence Service (NIS) said that Pyongyang might be planning a new missile test while U.S. President Trump is on an official visit in Asia.
According to the agency, activity at North Korea’s missile research facilities in Pyongyang, where the latest missile test was conducted, hinted the South Koreans of a possible new missile test. However, no information was given on how the activity was detected.
“There is a possibility of a new missile launch given the active movement of vehicles around the missile research institute in Pyongyang. The North will constantly push for further nuclear tests going forward, and the miniaturization and diversification of warheads,” the intelligence agency said at the briefing according to Reuters.
According to the NIS, the test could be conducted in the Tunnel 3 at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site, in North Hamyong Province.
One thing is certain, however. If North Korea tests a nuclear missile while President Trump is in Asia, we can expect a new round of sanctions as well as an escalation in U.S. forces in the region. Conducting such a test at that time could also be perceived as a message to the United States that Pyongyang will continue its nuclearization regardless of the U.S. presence in the region.