US B-1B bombers return to Guam after drills with South Korean and Japanese jets

A US Air Force B-1B Lancer bomber sits on the runway at Anderson Air Force Base, Guam.
A US Air Force B-1B Lancer bomber sits on the runway at Anderson Air Force Base, Guam. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO - Two US supersonic bombers which conducted joint air drills with South Korean and Japanese fighter jets over the Korean peninsula and in Japanese skies on Tuesday (Aug 8) have returned to their base in Guam.

The pair of B-1B Lancers, which are capable of carrying nuclear bombs,  first flew to Japan and then travelled to South Korea in a 10-hour mission from the Andersen Air Force Base in Guam.

They flew together with South Korea's KF-16 fighter jets and performed a pass over the Pilsung Range in the eastern province of Gangwon before leaving the Korean peninsula, according to the US Pacific Air Force.

The exercise around Japan’s southern Kyushu island involved two U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer bombers and two Japanese F-2 jet fighters, Japan’s Air Self Defence Force (ASDF) said in a news release.

Get The Straits Times
newsletters in your inbox

The two B-1B Lancer bombers of the 37th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron were newly deployed to Guam from the Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, in support of US Pacific Command’s continuous bomber presence missions in the region, reported Yonhap news agency. The sortie on Tuesday marked the first mission for the crews and aircraft.

It reportedly takes only two hours for the supersonic bomber to reach Korea from Guam. 

The US Pacific Air Force also said the drills with South Korea and Japan demonstrate solidarity among the three parties to "defend against provocative and destabilising actions in the Pacific theater. The allies did not announce the mission in advance, reported Yonhap news agency.

Xinhua news agency, quoting the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), reported that the US bombers were dispatched to stage mock nuclear bomb droppings on North Korean strategic targets.

The KCNA quoted a spokesman of the Strategic Force of the Korean People’s Army (KPA) as saying that the US B-1B strategic bombers, which are based in Guam, are “getting on the nerves of the DPRK and threatening and blackmailing it through their frequent visits to the sky above South  Korea”.

North Korea said on Wednesday (Aug 9) it is considering a strike on the US Pacific territory of Guam, hours after President Donald trump said any threat from Pyongyang would be met with “fire and fury”. Andersen Air Force Base on Guam is where the U.S. keeps its B1-B bombers deployed to the Asia Pacific.  

Dubbed the "tip of the spear', Guam is strategically important for the allies as it will serve as a key station to supply additional service members and high-profile defence assets in the event of an emergency on the Korean peninsula. 

Guam hosts various types of high-profile U.S. military weapon systems, including B-1B and B-52 strategic bombers, as well as the THAAD missile defence system. Guam's Homeland Security Advisor George Charfauros told CNN  the US "routinely uses" Aegis-equipped warships around the island chain of the Marianas, of which Guam is the largest. 

S. Dakota #Airmen arrive on Guam; conduct #bilateral missions w/Japan & ROK--U.S. ready to #fighttonight https://t.co/DhOTTdNT19 pic.twitter.com/HSOkYKHPQ4

The North is apparently unnerved by the frequent appearance of US bombers, aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines in the vicinity of its territory, according to the Yonhap report.

The US dispatched two B-1Bs late last month (July) in response to the North's test-firing of another intercontinental ballistic missile.