October 23, 2023
SEOUL – South Korea, the United States and Japan joined forces for an unprecedented aerial exercise south of the Korean Peninsula on Sunday, with the goal of bolstering their collective response capabilities against escalating missile and nuclear threats from North Korea.
The US Air Force’s nuclear-capable B-52 heavy bomber — which boasts the capability to carry both nuclear and precision-guided conventional munitions with worldwide precision navigation — conducted a formation flight while under the vigilant escort of fighter jets from South Korea, the US and Japan, according to South Korean military sources.
The South Korean Air Force’s F-15K fighter jets and the F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter aircraft of the US Air Force participated in the air exercise along with the Japan Air Self-Defense Force’s Mitsubishi F-2 fighter aircraft, South Korea’s Air Force said in a press statement.
Both the South Korean and US air forces as well as the US Air Force and Japan Air Self-Defense Force have separately conducted combined drills on multiple occasions. However, the first-ever trilateral aerial exercise marks an entirely new horizon in their collaborative endeavors, presenting a demonstration of their combined strength.
Seoul, Washington and Tokyo conducted the aerial exercise south of the Korean Peninsula within the regions that overlap both South Korea’s Air Defense Identification Zone and Japan’s Air Defense Identification Zone, according to South Korea’s Air Force.
An Air Defense Identification Zone is an area outside a nation’s sovereign airspace, acknowledged under international law. Established international agreements grant countries the right to identify and monitor incoming aircraft within an ADIZ, with the primary objective of safeguarding national security and preventing unauthorized entry and inadvertent conflicts.
The inaugural trilateral exercise follows up on the “Spirit of Camp David,” which was marked by the joint statement signed during the summit among the leaders of the three countries on Aug. 18 this year.
“The exercise aimed to fulfill the defense agreements discussed during the South Korea-US-Japan summit in Camp David in August and to enhance the three countries’ response capabilities against North Korea’s escalating nuclear and missile threats,” the South Korea Air Force said.
As a step in this direction, the three countries mutually agreed to conduct “annual, named, multi-domain trilateral exercises on a regular basis” with the aim of enhancing their coordinated capabilities and cooperation, as outlined in the joint statement.
Seoul, Washington and Tokyo have jointly conducted missile defense drills and anti-submarine exercises in the sea, as part of their commitment to regularize military exercises tailored to deter and swiftly respond to the nuclear and missile threats posed by North Korea.
“Furthermore, it once again demonstrated the security cooperation and solidarity among the three countries and reaffirmed the strong commitment of the US to the security of the Korean Peninsula,” South Korea’s Air Force said.
“The Air Force will continue enhancing cooperation among South Korea, the US and Japan, building upon the foundation of the ironclad South Korea-US alliance.”
The first-ever trilateral exercise in the air was conducted on the occasion of the unprecedented multiday touchdown of the B-52H Stratofortress at a South Korean air base.
The B-52 long-range, heavy bomber embarked on a remarkable journey of over 19 hours from Barksdale Air Force Base in the northwest corner of Louisiana, and made its inaugural landing at a South Korean air base in Cheongju, North Chungcheong Province, Tuesday.
During its visit, the B-52 also conducted flyovers as part of Seoul ADEX 2023, South Korea’s premier aerospace and defense exhibition, in celebration of the 70th anniversary of the South Korea-US alliance, forged through the signing of a mutual defense treaty in October 1953.
The B-52 strategic bomber is a pivotal airborne component of the US nuclear triad, which serves as the backbone of national security.
Consequently, the deployment of the B-52 serves as a paramount means of showcasing US extended deterrence, which is the US commitment to deter or respond to coercion and attacks on US allies and partners by using the full range of its military capabilities, including nuclear.
North Korea condemned the US for deploying the B-52 strategic bomber to the Korean Peninsula and conducting the trilateral aerial exercise in a statement released through the state-run Korean Central News Agency on Friday.
The commentary characterized the trilateral exercise as an “intentional provocative maneuver for nuclear war” by the US, indicating North Korea’s potential intent to launch preemptive strikes against US strategic assets within the peninsula.
North Korea claimed US strategic assets entering enemy territory to be its “primary targets for destruction,” citing the ongoing legal state of war on the Korean Peninsula as the backdrop.