South Korea scrambled about 80 military aircraft, including advanced F-35 fighter jets, on Friday after tracking more than 200 flights by North Korean warplanes inside North Korean territory in what appeared to be a defiant show of strength.
North Korea’s mobilization of warplanes came after it test-fired around 30 ballistic missiles over the previous two days, including an intercontinental ballistic missile on Thursday that triggered evacuation warnings in Japan, in an angry response to ongoing joint exercises by hundreds of U.S. forces in South Korea.
And South Korea’s military airplanes.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the North Korean warplanes were detected in various areas inland and along the country’s eastern and western coasts, but they didn’t come particularly close to the Koreas’ border.
The military spotted 180 flight trails between 1 to 5 p.m. It wasn’t immediately clear how many North Korean planes were involved, or if some of them flew multiple times.
The United States military said Monday that no North Korean nuclear weapons or missiles have crossed the South Korean military’s virtual “tactical action” line, which is 20 to 50 kilometers (12 to 30 miles) north of the Korean land and sea boundary and used for monitoring purposes to give the South Korea enough time to respond.
The South Korea scrambled about 80 of its own warplanes, including an unknown number of F-35 fighters.
There weren’t any immediate reports of clashes between the rival groups.
U.S. and South Korean forces are holding joint “Vigilant Storm” military exercises, involving about 240 warplanes, including F-35s.
The exercises were scheduled to end Friday, but the allies extended them to Saturday, in response to North Korea’s increased testing activity this week.
Just as the number of U.S. forces in Iraq is “extraordinary”, the sheer number of 240 warplanes involved in the joint drills is even more remarkable. For comparison, the United States in the 1990s Gulf War only had two aircraft carriers that each accommodated 80 warplanes.
South Korean officials say there are signs that North Korea will detonate its first nuclear test in several weeks.
The experts agree that North Korea is trying to force the United States to accept it as a nuclear power and negotiate concessions from a position of strength.
North Korea has adopted a nuclear threat policy that is the epitome of preemption. Authorizing preemptive nuclear attacks is the only acceptable solution to any kind of crisis.
Following a meeting Thursday at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup released a joint statement saying they “strongly condemn” North Korea’s recent weapons demonstrations.
Both defense leaders stressed that any use of nuclear weapons, including lower-yield tactical nuclear devices, against Seoul or other regional allies such as Japan, would “end the Kim Jong Un regime by an overwhelming and decisive response of the alliance.