B-52 bombers unlikely to join drills with Seoul

A US Air Force F-22 Raptor fighter jet landing in Gwangju, South Korea, yesterday. The Pentagon has downplayed ongoing military exercises with South Korea, describing them as routine and defensive.
A US Air Force F-22 Raptor fighter jet landing in Gwangju, South Korea, yesterday. The Pentagon has downplayed ongoing military exercises with South Korea, describing them as routine and defensive.PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL/WASHINGTON • The US military's B-52 nuclear bombers are unlikely to participate in air drills between the United States and South Korea after Pyongyang pulled out of planned high-level talks with the South to protest against the exercise, South Korean media reported yesterday.

A source in the South Korean military said yesterday that US F-22 Raptor stealth fighters are participating in the drills, which kicked off last Friday, but B-52 bombers have not joined yet and are unlikely to take part, reported KBS News.

"In the training, the US F-22 stealth fighters have already participated, while the B-52 has yet to join," a source told Yonhap news agency. "It appears that the B-52 may not attend the exercise, which runs through May 25."

With a range of 12,900km on just one tank of fuel, the B-52 is able to reach pretty much anywhere in the world. It has already seen action during the war in Vietnam, and more recently in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Pentagon on Tuesday also played down ongoing military exercises with South Korea, saying they were routine and defensive in nature, Reuters reported.

"Republic of Korea (ROK) and US military forces are currently engaged in the recurring, annual ROK-US spring exercises, to include exercises Foal Eagle 2018 and Max Thunder 2018," a Pentagon spokesman said, adding that the Max Thunder air combat drills were scheduled to run from May 14 to 25.

"These defensive exercises are part of the ROK-US alliance's routine, annual training programme to maintain a foundation of military readiness," the spokesman added.

North Korea said barely a word about the drills during computer simulation exercises last month. But the two-week Max Thunder drills between the two countries' air forces have clearly struck a nerve, reported The Washington Post.

Pyongyang has repeatedly shown its aversion to the deployment of the B-52 bomber, part of the US nuclear umbrella, over the peninsula.

The Max Thunder exercise involves 100 aircraft, including eight F-22 radar-evading fighter jets, as well as F-15Ks and F-16s.

It is hosted by South Korea's Air Force Operations Command and the US Seventh Air Force.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 17, 2018, with the headline 'B-52 bombers unlikely to join drills with Seoul'. Print Edition | Subscribe