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U.S. Ups The Ante With B-1B Bomber Deployments To South Korea

REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

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Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter
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The U.S. sent two supersonic strategic bombers to South Korea Wednesday in the second show of force since North Korea conducted its fifth nuclear test in September, according to multiple reports.

Two American B-1B Lancers from Anderson Air Force Base in Guam flew along the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), reports Yonhap News Agency. This is the closest a B-1B strategic bomber has ever flown to the border. The two aircraft were accompanied by two F-16s and two F-15Ks. The flights were intended to show solidarity with Seoul and the possible consequences for Pyongyang.

“The bond between the United States and the Republic of Korea is ironclad and the strength of that commitment will not be shaken by North Korea’s aggressive behavior,” said Lt. Gen. Thomas W. Bergeson, 7th Air Force commander, in a United States Forces Korea (USFK) statement.

“The Korean Peninsula faces a grave security crisis as a result of North Korea’s fifth nuclear test,” said Lieutenant General Lee Wang-keun, South Korean Air Force Operations Commander. “Should the enemy provoke us once again, the combined air forces will respond and eliminate their will and capability to fight.”

Unlike the B-1B flyovers Sept. 13, one of the bombers stayed behind and landed at Osan Air Force Base. A B-1B bomber has not landed on the Korean Peninsula in 20 years. It is currently unclear how long the B-1B will be stationed in South Korea.

The B-1B Lancer is a supersonic strategic bomber, and while these aircraft are no longer equipped with nuclear weapons, they are regarded as nuclear-capable and can carry the largest payload of any U.S. bomber. Able to travel at speeds up to Mach 2, the B-1B can quickly and effectively utilize its arsenal of guided and unguided weaponry to eliminate enemy targets.

The B-1B can reportedly reach the Korean Peninsula in just two hours from Anderson Air Force Base in Guam.

After North Korea conducted its fifth nuclear test in January, the U.S. sent a B-52 bomber to conduct a flyover in South Korea.

Some analysts have suggested that the U.S. sent nonnuclear long-range bombers as nuclear deterrence to avoid escalating the current situation. “The U.S. is trying to calm South Korean nerves, deter the North Koreans, and not raise tensions with China,” Euan Graham, director of the International Security Program at the Lowy Institute in Sydney, told The Japan Times.

There are reports, though, that the U.S. will also send B-52 and B-2 bombers to South Korea. Both of these planes are nuclear-capable long-range bombers. The B-52 bomber is reportedly armed with “bunker buster” bombs which could be used to take out North Korea’s nuclear facilities.

“Neither sanctions nor provocations nor pressure can ever bring down the position of the DPRK as a full-fledged nuclear weapons state,” North Korea said in response to the flights Sept. 13. Pyongyang has yet to offer a response to the U.S. and South Korea’s latest show of force.

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