US to deploy B-1B Lancer bombers for joint exercise with South Korea involving 230 warplanes

The US will deploy B-1B Lancer bombers to the Korean peninsula as part of a joint exercise with South Korea involving 230 warplanes. PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL (BLOOMBERG) - The US will deploy B-1B Lancer bombers to the Korean peninsula on Wednesday (Dec 6) as part of a joint exercise with South Korea involving 230 warplanes, Yonhap News said, citing an unidentified source.

A similar drill in September saw the aircraft fly the farthest north of the Demilitarised Zone, or DMZ, of any US fighter or bomber in the 21st century.

This prompted Pyongyang to say it had the right to shoot down US strategic warplanes in international airspace as part of its right to self-defence under the United Nations charter.

The US Pacific Air Forces spokeswoman Lori Hodge issued a statement saying it wouldn't discuss future missions for operational security reasons.

The US "has maintained a rotational strategic bomber presence in the region for more than a decade", Lieutenant Colonel Hodge wrote.

The Guam-based long-range, multi-mission supersonic aircraft will conduct bombing drills with South Korean fighter jets, Yonhap said, without specifying the number of bombers joining the exercise.

The Vigilant Ace 18 drills involve 230 aircraft and 12,000 American troops, in what North Korea has dubbed the largest-ever joint aerial exercise.

North Korea, which last week launched a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile, said ahead of the drills that it would consider the "highest-level hardline countermeasure in history", according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency.

It referred to a similar statement in September, which Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho said may include a ground-level test of a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific Ocean.

North Korea regularly cites military drills around the peninsula as justification for its nuclear and missile-testing programme.

The isolated regime on Nov 29 launched an ICBM with improved technology that it said can deliver a nuclear warhead anywhere in the US and claimed it had completed its nuclear force.

On Tuesday, a senior United Nations official began a four-day visit to the isolated state for talks with Mr Ri and other officials.

Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman isn't taking a message from the US, State Dept spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters in a briefing.

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