The United States and its Asian allies flew dozens of fighter jets over waters surrounding the Korean Peninsula on Tuesday in a show of force as their diplomats discussed a coordinated response to a possibly imminent North Korean nuclear test.
The flights came as U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman traveled to Seoul for discussions with South Korea and Japanese officials over the gathering North Korean threat and warned of a “swift and forceful” counterresponse if the North proceeds with a nuclear test explosion, which would be its first in nearly five years.
If staged, the test could be another leap forward in North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s goal of building an arsenal that can viably threaten regional U.S. allies and the American homeland. That would escalate a pressure campaign aimed at forcing the United States to accept North Korea as a nuclear power and negotiating economic and security concessions from a position of strength.
“Any nuclear test would be in complete violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions. There would be a swift and forceful response to such a test,” Sherman said after meeting with South Korean Vice Foreign Minister Cho Hyun-dong. “We continue to urge Pyongyang to cease its destabilizing and provocative activities and choose the path of diplomacy.”
Sherman and Cho are planning a three-way meeting with Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Mori Takeo on Wednesday over the North Korean nuclear issue.
Extending the countries’ joint displays of military might, four U.S. F-16 fighter jets flew in formation with 16 South Korean planes — including F-35A stealth fighters — over waters off South Korea’s eastern coast, an exercise aimed at demonstrating an ability to quickly respond to North Korean provocations, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said. The United States and Japan conducted a separate drill involving six aircraft — four Japanese F-15 fighters and two American F-16s — above waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, Japan’s Defense Ministry said.
The flights came a day after U.S. and South Korean forces fired eight surface-to-surface missiles into South Korea’s eastern waters to match a weekend missile display by North Korea, which fired the same number of weapons from multiple locations Sunday in what was likely its biggest single-day testing event.
North Korea has conducted 18 rounds of missile launches in 2022 alone — including its first demonstrations of intercontinental ballistic missiles since 2017 — exploiting a favorable environment to push forward weapons development, with the Security Council effectively paralyzed over Russia’s war on Ukraine.
North Korea may soon up the ante as U.S. and South Korean officials say it is all but ready to conduct another detonation at its nuclear testing ground in the northeastern town of Punggye-ri. Its last such test and sixth overall was in September 2017, when it claimed to have detonated a thermonuclear bomb designed for its ICBMs.
US, allies fly fighter jets amid North Korea tensions