Reuters & Neil Connor / The Telegraph & Alexander Smith / NBC News – 2017-12-05 21:50:36
South Korea, US Kick Off Large-scale
Air Exercise Amid North Korean Warnings
SEOUL (December 4, 2017) — South Korea and the United States launched large-scale joint aerial drills on Monday, officials said, a week after North Korea said it had tested its most advanced missile as part of a weapons programme that has raised global tensions.
The annual US-South Korean drill, called Vigilant Ace, will run until Friday, with six F-22 Raptor stealth fighters to be deployed among the more than 230 aircraft taking part. The exercises have been condemned as a provocation by the isolated North.
F-35 fighters will also join the drill, which will also include the largest number of 5th generation fighters to take part, according to a South Korea-based US Air Force spokesman.
Around 12,000 US service members, including from the Marines and Navy, will join South Korean troops. Aircraft taking part will be flown from eight US and South Korean military installations.
South Korean media reports said B-1B Lancer bombers could join the exercise this week. The US Air Force spokesman could not confirm the reports.
The joint exercise is designed to enhance readiness and operational capability and to ensure peace and security on the Korean peninsula, the US military had said before the drills began.
The drills come a week after North Korea said it had tested its most advanced intercontinental ballistic missile ever in defiance of international sanctions and condemnation.
Pyongyang blamed US President Donald Trump for raising tensions and warned at the weekend the Vigilant Ace exercise was pushing tensions on the Korean peninsula towards “a flare-up”, according to North Korean state media.
North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country called Trump “insane” on Sunday and said the drill would “push the already acute situation on the Korean peninsula to the brink of nuclear war”.
China Stages Drills in Warning to US and
South Korea Amid Nuclear Tensions
Neil Connor / The Telegraph
BEIJING December 5, 2017) — China has staged military drills near North Korea in a defiant warning to Washington and Seoul that it will uphold a “balance of power”, a military expert said, amid ongoing US-South Korean war games.
The Chinese exercise in the Yellow and East seas near the Korean peninsula follow the launch of joint drills by the US and South Korea involving dozens of stealth jets and the simulation of precision attacks on the North’s military installations.
The US-South Korea drills come after Pyongyang last week fired its most advanced intercontinental ballistic missile in defiance of the UN.
Chinese Air Force Air Force spokesman Shen Jinke announced China’s drills on social media on Monday evening, saying that military aircraft “arrived in air lanes and regions that we have never been to before.” There were no details on when the drills took place, but Mr. Chen said the manoeuvres involved “fighter jets, early warning aircraft and surface-to-air missile forces.”
“The Chinese air force will conduct high-sea exercises under combat conditions on a regular basis,” the spokesman added.
The drills come amid heightened tensions in North-east Asia, with sources from both the US and North Korea saying over the weekend that the possibility of war is growing every day.
China has grown increasingly frustrated with the North’s nuclear weapon’s program, but the two countries are historic allies and maintain strong trading links.
Wei Dongxu, a Beijing-based military analyst said the Chinese drills were aimed at warning the South Korean and US military they would be expelled from Chinese airspace. They also sent a more general message to Seoul and Washington, he said. “China is showing that it can uphold the balance of power in the region.”
Additional reporting by Christine Wei.
US Drills in South Korea
Trigger ‘Nuclear War’ Warning from North
Alexander Smith / NBC News
(December 4, 2017) — Two dozen US stealth jets were among hundreds of aircraft involved in war games in South Korea on Monday intended as a show of strength to neighboring North Korea.
Dubbed Vigilant Ace, the annual military drills come amid heightened tensions in the region triggered by Kim Jong Un’s missile and nuclear tests and the ratcheting up of rhetoric from both sides.
A total of 230 planes will fly from eight locations in South Korea, the Air Force said in a statement.
The Navy and Marine Corps were also participating in what was described as “a realistic air combat exercise” designed to improve the technical cooperation between the American and South Korean militaries. About 12,000 US military personnel are involved.
North Korea described the exercises as a “grave provocation,” claiming in its state-run media Monday that they could escalate the situation “to the brink of nuclear war.”
Pyongyang said Vigilant Ace was being staged at a time “when insane President Trump is running wild” and it also condemned South Korea as “puppet war maniacs.”
The Air Force said the exercises were “not in response to any incident or provocation” and pointed out that the US and South Korea engage in war games every year.
But this latest round, which runs until Friday, comes less than one week after North Korea’s latest test of what appeared to be an intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM.
Analysts said the rocket was the most powerful ever launched by the North — with some suggesting it had the range to reach anywhere in the US mainland.
However, any long-range nuclear weapon would still need a robust re-entry vehicle, a lightweight warhead and accurate guidance systems, elements Kim’s regime has not publicly demonstrated.
Experts are unsure exactly how close Kim is to achieving his goal, and many believe he wants the weapons to deter the US from trying to topple his regime, rather than to strike them without provocation.
North Korea has said in public statements that it wants an official end to the Korean War. The conflict was halted by a 1953 armistice but no peace treaty has been signed. It also wants nothing short of full normalization of relations with the US and to be treated with respect and as an equal in the global arena.
The U.S says its war games with South Korea are “designed to ensure peace and security on the Korean Peninsula” and show Washington’s “commitment to stability” in the region.
The scale of the drills is similar to previous years, the military said. However, six F-22 fighter jets, as well as six F-35As and 12 F-35Bs, were involved for the first time.
The North has offered to freeze its nuclear and missile programs in exchange for the US stopping its joint drills with South Korea. Russia and China also back what the latter calls a “dual suspension” solution to the standoff.
Earlier this year, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson rejected such a freeze because he said it would effectively enshrine the nuclear capability that North Korea has already achieved and leave little leeway to dismantle its program as it stands, something that would be unacceptable to the US.
Referring to this week’s military exercises, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said, “it is regrettable that all parties did not grasp the window of opportunity China had previously appealed for.”
China also opposes a US anti-missile system deployed in South Korea. It says the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, better known as THAAD, could penetrate into its territory using the system’s powerful radar.
Many experts agree that war on the Korean Peninsula would likely result in a high level of civilian casualties.
China has appeared reluctant to impose the level of sanctions that the Trump administration would like, possibly fearful of a humanitarian crisis at its border and a US-backed unified Korea.
National Security Adviser Gen. H.R. McMaster said Sunday that President Donald Trump would “take care” of the issue, without offering specifics.
McMaster, in an interview with Fox News, said that Trump had made it a priority “to move as quickly as we can to resolve this crisis with North Korea.”
“If necessary, the president and the United States will have to take care of it, because he has said he’s not going to allow this murderous, rogue regime to threaten the United States,” McMaster said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said he believes that it’s time for US military families in South Korea to leave the country because conflict with North Korea is getting close.
In addition to American diplomats and other embassy workers, about 28,500 US troops operate in the country, and many come with their families, who often live on huge, well-guarded military bases
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