The United States Air Force (USAF) and the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) have launched a scheduled joint military exercise over South Korean airspace on December 4 involving some 230 aircraft including six F-22 Raptor and 18 F-35 stealth fighters.
The five-day air combat exercise, code named Vigilant ACE (Air Component Exercise), involves around 12,000 personnel from both air forces and aims to improve the allies’ joint warfighting capabilities and will include simulated precision strikes on North Korean command and control facilities as well as missile sites.
“Vigilant ACE is the allies’ annual combined exercise designed to enhance their readiness posture and capability of carrying out missions in the event of war,” the 7th US Air Force said in a press release. “The drills highlight the longstanding military partnership and enduring friendship between the two nations.”
The air forces will launch their aircraft from eight U.S. and ROK military installations, according to the U.S. 7th Air Force. “This exercise is comparable in size to previous Vigilant ACE exercises… It is not in response to any incident or provocation.”
According to the ROK Ministry of Defense, the drill is aimed “at enhancing the all-weather, day and night combined air power operation capabilities of South Korea and the U.S.”
Notably, the air combat drill for the first time involves six USAF Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor fifth-generation stealth air superiority fighter jets in addition to six F-35A Lightning II — the aircraft’s conventional takeoff and landing version — and 12 F-35B capable of vertical or short takeoffs and vertical landings.
The United States has recently deployed 12 F-35As and 16 F-35Bs to Japan.
According to South Korean media reports, other assets include USAF B-1B Lancer bombers, six EA-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft, and dozens of F-15C and F-16 fighter jets. The ROKAF participates with F-15K, KF-16, FA-50 and F-5 fighter jets.
North Korea has publicly condemned the exercise. “Such a drill is a dangerous provocation as it is driving the tension on the Korean peninsula to the brink of a nuclear war,” Rodong Sinmun newspaper said in a commentary. “The U.S. and the South Korean puppet forces are so foolish as to run amok with such stealth fighters.”
North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country said that “U.S. and South Korean puppet military warmongers should bear in mind that their escalating provocation and adding to crimes will only invite more terrible retaliation and precipitate their self-destruction,” Yonhap news agency reports.
Meanwhile Lindsey Graham, a Republican U.S. senator, stated in an interview that it was time for U.S. military families in South Korea to leave the country.
“It’s crazy to send spouses and children to South Korea, given the provocation of North Korea,” Graham said on U.S. television. “I think it’s now time to start moving American dependents out of South Korea.”
In response to North Korea’s recent ballistic missile test, H.R. McMaster, U.S. President Donald Trump’s national security advisor, emphasized on Saturday that the risk of war on the Korean Peninsula is “increasing every day.”
Speaking at the Reagan National Security Forum, McMaster added:” It means we’re in a race. We’re in a race to be able to solve this problem. There are ways to address this problem short of armed conflict, but it is a race because he’s getting closer and closer and there’s not much time left.”