Seoul, Washington launch largest joint air drills in five years

Seoul, 31 Oct (EFE).- South Korea and the United States on Monday kicked off their largest aerial military exercises in five years, deploying more than 240 aircrafts- including advanced fighter jets – to strengthen deterrence in the backdrop of growing tensions with North Korea.

The Vigilant Storm exercises, which are set to continue over the Korean peninsula until Friday, come amid widespread speculation that Pyongyang could soon carry out its first nuclear test in five years, following the recent increase in missile tests by the North.

Seoul has deployed about 140 planes, including F-35A fighters as well as F-15K and KF-16 warplanes, while Washington has sent around one hundred planes, including F-35B fighters based in Okinawa, Japan, and EA-18, a version of the F-18 fighter-bomber adapted for electronic warfare scenarios.

The US fleet also includes KC-135 tankers and U-2 reconnaissance aircraft.

This is the first time the US has deployed F-35B fighters on South Korean territory, according to the South Korean air force, which plans to coordinate more than 1,600 aircraft take-offs during the drills, that include a continuous simulation of interception and air defense operations during a 24-hour period.

The Australian air force is also participating in the event by contributing one KC-30A tanker.

The mobilization of assets in the peninsula amounts to a clear show of strength to North Korea at a time when the regime continues to carry out missile tests at an unprecedented rate, with the latest taking place on Friday.

These exercises originated with Vigilant Ace, combined air drills that began in 2015 and were discontinued in 2018 owing to the temporary reconciliation between Seoul, Washington, and Pyongyang.

The Korean peninsula is witnessing tensions similar to those in 2017, marked by repeated aggressions by North Korea, and it is feared that the 5-day air exercises could trigger some sort of a response by Pyongyang, as the regime considers the drills a threat to its sovereignty. EFE


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