America’s most advanced stealth fighter participated in precision bombing drills on the Korean peninsula for the first time.
Around half a dozen U.S. Marine Corps F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters took part in the Korea Marine Exercise Program this week and drilled alongside South Korean troops and U.S. Marines, military officials said Saturday.
The commander of the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) said the incorporation of the F-35s into the drills was a testament to the strength of the U.S.-South Korean alliance.
“The deployment of the most advanced aircraft the USMC has in their inventory to Korea is yet another example of how dedicated the United States is to supporting the ROK-U.S. Alliance,” Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, commander of the 28,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea said in a statement. “The training within the KMEP program helps ensure our readiness and is critical for our Alliance as we maintain security and stability on the Korean Peninsula.”
The joint exercises were intended to “enhance and improve the interoperability of ROK and the U.S. Marine Corps at the tactical level to build combined warfighting capabilities,” according to the USFK statement.
The F-35s participated in a simulation-based precision bombing drill at the Pilsung Shooting Range in the eastern province of Gangwon, sources told the Korea Herald. Afterwards, the fighters reportedly returned to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Japan, where the first squadron of forward-deployed USMC F-35s is stationed.
Ten F-35s were deployed to Japan in January, and six more are scheduled for deployment this year.
“The addition of the F-35B is meant to deliver a strong message to the North that they could be used against the rogue state in case of a conflict breaking out on the Korean Peninsula,” an South Korean military official told Yonhap News Agency after news broke that American F-35s would take part in this year’s joint drills.
North Korea has already unleashed its fury over the move.
Earlier this month, North Korea fired four extended-range scuds into the Sea of Japan. After the launch, the state-run Korean Central News Agency announced that the North’s artillerymen were “tasked to strike the bases of the U.S. imperialist aggressor forces in Japan.” Open source intelligence analysis suggests that North Korea was rehearsing a strike on Iwakuni airbase.
Targeting Iwakuni could be a “way of letting us know they have the ability to hit U.S. bases in Japan that are likely to be used in a Korean contingency,” Euan Graham, director of the International Security Program at the Lowy Institute in Australia, told the Japan Times.
In the event of a crisis or conflict with North Korea, the strategic assets at Iwakuni would be among the first deployed to the Korean peninsula.
While the F-35 is a highly-capable multi-role fighter armed with an extensive collection of offensive weaponry, the recent KMEP exercises are said to be strictly defensive in nature, despite North Korea’s claims that the U.S. and South Korea are training for an invasion.
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