The United States and South Korea on Sunday kickstarted joint air exercise involving Seoul's F-35A, F-15K, and US F-16 fighters escorted by American B-1B bombers in a defiant posture against increasingly belligerent North Korea. The aerial drills were conducted just a day after North Korea fired the Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in a warning to the United States against provocations and alignment with the South, which it says has destabilized the entire Korean peninsula. Saturday's launch was the first since January 1.
Authoritarian dictator Kim Jong Un threatened an ‘overwhelming response’ to hostilities just days before launching the missile to demonstrate the readiness of Korean Army special units under the new Missile General Bureau. Hwasong-15 first yesterday was first tested in 2017 and was launched by the First Red Flag Hero Company from Pyongyang International Airport.
South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that the joint exercises demonstrated the allies' "overwhelming" defense capabilities and readiness posture to counter North Korea's nuclear ambitions and barrage of missile launches that pose security risks in the region.
"The exercise strengthened the combined operation capability and affirmed the United States' ironclad commitment to the defense of the Korean Peninsula and the implementation of extended deterrence," South Korean defense military's statement read.
The U.S. and ROK conducted a combined air training event with the USAF B-1 Lancer high above the Korean Peninsula on Feb 19, 2023.— U.S. Forces Korea (@USForcesKorea) February 19, 2023
ROKAF F-35s and USAF F-16s joined in offering the alliance an opportunity to rehearse short-notice recall missions. #WeFlyTogether #ROKUSAlliance pic.twitter.com/2Rk9FPcsFO
Earlier yesterday, Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said that the missile launch was ordered on "short notice," and that it demonstrated the reliability of Pyongyang’s nukes and “capacity for a fatal nuclear counterattack on the hostile forces." It showed that North Korea's military unit got an "excellent mark" over the military exercise, and the North's ruling party "highly appreciated the actual war capacity of the ICBM units which are ready for a mobile and mighty counterattack."
The launch came days after Pyongyang's Foreign Ministry warned Seoul of “unprecedented” counteractions if it conducted large-scale joint drills with its archrival United States. Japan's ministry noted that North Korea's missile plunged into the East Sea or the Sea of Japan, violating its exclusive economic zone [EEZ].
Kim Jong Un's sister, Kim Yo Jong, in separate statements, derided the United States' what she describes as a "heinous hostile policy" toward Pyongyang. "I warn that we will watch every movement of the enemy and take corresponding and very powerful and overwhelming counteraction against its every move hostile to us," she had threatened, before this year's ballistic missile launch.