US, South Korea to Hold Large-Scale Air Drills Amid North Korea’s Missile Provocations

US, South Korea to Hold Large-Scale Air Drills Amid North Korea’s Missile Provocations
In this photo provided by South Korea Defense Ministry, U.S. and South Korea Air Force fighter jets, including South Korea's F-35A stealth fighters and U.S. F-16 fighter jets, fly in formation during a joint drill on June, 7, 2022. (South Korea Defense Ministry via AP)
Aldgra Fredly

The United States and South Korea will hold a large-scale joint air exercise involving 240 military aircraft next week to bolster their combat readiness amid North Korea’s ongoing missile provocations.

The drill, known as the Vigilant Storm, will run from Oct. 31 to Nov. 4 and involve major air missions such as close air support, defensive counter air, and emergency air operations, the U.S. Air Force said in a statement.

“Support forces on the ground will also train their base defense procedures and survivability in case of attack,” it added.

The drill will involve 240 aircraft, 140 of which will be from South Korea, including its F-35A stealth jets and F-15K and KF-16 fighters. The U.S. will deploy its F-35B jets, EA-18 electronic warfare aircraft, and KC-135 tankers.

The Australian Air Force will also deploy a KC-30A air refueling tanker during the joint drill, according to the U.S. Air Force.

“This year’s event will strengthen the operational and tactical capabilities of combined air operations and enhance our strong combined defense posture,” it stated.

The drill was first conducted in 2015 under the name “Vigilant Ace,” but it was later suspended in 2018 as the former Moon Jae-in administration sought to restart denuclearization talks with North Korea.

President Yoon Suk-yeol, who took office in May, sought a tougher stance on North Korea and a stronger U.S. security commitment to the country’s defense as North Korea escalated its missile launches this year.

North Korea denounced the U.S.-South Korea joint drills as an “invasion rehearsal” and fired hundreds of shells in inter-Korean maritime buffer zones that had been established by the two sides in 2018 to reduce military tensions.

South Korea Plans to ‘Change Strategy’

Speaking at a committee meeting on Wednesday, South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup said that South Korea’s approach to the North Korean nuclear threat should shift from prevention to deterrence.
“We have put our focus on trying to prevent North Korea from conducting additional nuclear tests and advancing its nuclear capabilities, but it’s time to change our strategy,” Lee was quoted as saying by Yonhap News Agency.

“The priority should be on deterring the use of nuclear weapons by giving them a clear sense that if North Korea attempts to use nuclear weapons, it will bring about an end to the North Korean regime, and it will disappear completely,” he added.

Lee said that South Korea has been in talks with Washington to expand the scope of their intelligence sharing, exercises, and South Korea’s use of U.S. military assets under the extended deterrence strategy.

“We should have capabilities to watch all of [North Korean military’s] moves starting from pre-launch stages so as to neutralize them in advance physically or non-physically,” he added.

The two rivals exchanged warning shots along a disputed western maritime boundary on Oct. 24 as a North Korean vessel reportedly crossed a sea border with the South. The North Korean regime has said it stands ready to use nuclear weapons against “hostile forces” amid its renewed flurry of missile tests.