In a bid to intimidate North Korea and draw attention to the US military’s capabilities, American B-52 bombers - which are capable of carrying out nuclear strikes - are practicing over South Korea.
The move is in response to rising tensions after North Korea conducted its third successful nuclear test last month. This month’s first B-52 flights occurred on March 8, and the aircraft are scheduled to fly over South Korea again today.
"We're drawing attention to the fact that we have extended deterrence capabilities that we believe are important to demonstrate in the wake of recent North Korean rhetoric," US Pentagon press secretary George Little said in a public statement.
“We are in the midst right now of sending a very strong signal that we have a firm commitment to the alliance with our Republic of Korea allies,” Little added. “This is a stepped-up training effort to demonstrate our resolve to protect South Korea.”
Tensions in the Korean peninsula are the highest they have been since 2010, Bloomberg News reports. The B-52 bombers, which were initially built to carry nuclear weapons for deterrence missions during the Cold War, can serve as an intimidating factor. Aside from their nuclear capabilities, the aircraft are also capable of hauling air-to-ground missiles. With a firing range of about 1,864 miles, they could easily strike North Korea from a significant distance.
“Just having the B-52 near the Korean peninsula and pass through means that the US nuclear umbrella can be provided whenever necessary,” South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min Seok told reporters in Seoul.
Although the US regularly flies B-52s over South Korea during joint military exercises, the US is increasing the frequency of its flights in wake of the rising tensions. And the initiatives are starting to bother the North: on Tuesday, North Korea called the US a “wrecker of peace” and said that the drills are interfering with efforts to fix its struggling economy.
“A state of hypertensity has dawned upon these lands, facing war, not peace,” the Korean Central News Agency said in a statement made Tuesday.
But the US has vowed to take every necessary step to protect South Korea militarily. US Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter pledged to make all of America’s military resources, including nuclear arms, available to South Korea if a conflict were to ensue with its neighbor. And the B-52 flights are one of the moves meant to reinforce this commitment.
"As North Korea threatened to attack South Korea with nuclear weapons, the exercise involving B-52s is meaningful, as it shows US commitment to provide its nuclear umbrella on the Korean peninsula," said Kim Min-seok, spokesman for South Korea's Defense Ministry.
The US has also made plans to employ 14 missile interceptors by 2017 to keep North Korea’s threats at bar.
“The United States stands firm against aggression,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said during a Friday afternoon press conference. And as tensions continue to rise in the Korean peninsula, the US is continuing to respond with public displays of its military capabilities.