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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 September 2018

US bombers carry out live fire exercises near Korea DMZ 

The show of force came as the US plans to carry out a new test of its Thaad missile defence system against an intermediate-range ballistic missile

US B-1B Lancer flies over South Korea during a joint live-fire drill on July 8, 2017. South Korean Air Force/Yonhap via Reuters
US B-1B Lancer flies over South Korea during a joint live-fire drill on July 8, 2017. South Korean Air Force/Yonhap via Reuters

Seoul // US bombers carried out a rare live fire drill in South Korea on Saturday, flying close to the DMZ in a show of force after Pyongyang's latest missile test.

The exercise by two B-1B Lancers, flown from Andersen Air Base in Guam, was part of a 10-hour mission with South Korean and Japanese fighter jets in response to a "series of increasingly escalatory actions by North Korea including the intercontinental ballistic missile" on Tuesday, US Pacific Air Forces said.

The show of force came as the US plans to carry out a new test of its Thaad missile defence system against an intermediate-range ballistic missile in the coming days. US Missile Defense Agency confirmed that it aimed to carry out a Thaad flight test "in early July."

The test, which was planned months ago, will be the first of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (Thaad) to defend against a simulated attack by an intermediate-range ballistic missile. The Thaad interceptors will be fired from Alaska.

The exercise on Saturday aimed to "sternly respond to the series of North Korea's ballistic missile launches," the South's air force said.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency said the long-range heavy bombers flew close to the tense and heavily militarised land border with the North before turning back.

Four US and South Korean jet fighters joined the live fire drill, which was conducted at a range in Yeongwol County, about 80km south of the inter-Korean border, the South's air force said.

The long-range heavy aircraft each dropped a 900kg laser-guided bunker-busting smart bomb, Yonhap said.

The US statement said the B-1Bs released "inert" weapons at the Pilsung Range.

The drill simulated the two US bombers destroying enemy ballistic missile batteries and South Korean jets mounting precision strikes against underground enemy command posts, the South's air force said.

"Through this drill, the South Korean and US air forces demonstrated strong determination to thoroughly punish the enemy for its provocative acts, and showed off their capability to pulverise enemy command posts," it said.

Lt Gen Thomas Bergeson, US Forces Korea deputy commander, said the mission demonstrated the allies remain "prepared to use the full range of capabilities to defend and to preserve the security of the Korean peninsula and region".

En route back to Guam, the B-1Bs flew and integrated with Japanese fighter jets over the East China Sea, US Pacific Air Forces said.

North Korea's first intercontinental ballistic missile test has shifted the dynamic in the confrontation with Washington over its nuclear and missile programmes.

In response, US and South Korean soldiers fired ballistic missiles simultaneously in a drill on Wednesday, simulating an attack on the North's leadership "as a strong message of warning," the South's military said at the time.

The United States has Thaad interceptors in Guam that are meant to help guard against a missile attack from a country such as North Korea.

The Missile Defence Agency said Thaad had a 100 per cent successful track record in its 13 flight tests since 2006. The ground based system is designed to shoot down short, medium and intermediate-range ballistic missiles.

Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor for the Thaad system, said it has the ability to intercept incoming missiles both inside and outside the Earth's atmosphere.

This year's US deployment of Thaad in South Korea to guard against North Korea's shorter-range missiles has also drawn fierce criticism from China, which says the system's powerful radar can probe deep into its territory.

Earlier this month Moscow and Beijing, in a joint statement, called on Washington to immediately halt deployment of Thaad in South Korea.

Thaad's success rate in testing is far higher than the one for America's Ground-based Midcourse Defense system (GMD), the system specifically designed to shoot down an ICBM headed for the US mainland.

The GMD system successfully shot down an incoming, simulated North Korean ICBM in a test in May.

That led the Pentagon to upgrade its assessment of America's ability to defend against a small number of ICBMs.

*Reuters and Agence France-Presse

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