The United States, South Korea, and Japan held their first ever combined aerial exercise Sunday in an effort to send a tough message to North Korea.
It’s not new for the United States to hold aerial drills with Japan or with South Korea. But the three countries had never held such an exercise together until Sunday.
That’s when a U.S. B-52 bomber flew alongside Japanese and South Korean fighter jets just south of the Korean Peninsula.
Philip Goldberg, the U.S. ambassador to Seoul, called it a “new era” in defense ties.
Though Japan and South Korea are both close U.S. allies, their bilateral ties are strained by historical disputes.
But in August, the three countries agreed to hold more defense drills to counter North Korea.
It is particularly significant that a nuclear-capable B-52 bomber participated in this week’s drill, says Seoul-based scholar Park Won-gon.
Park says Pyongyang particularly fears strategic aircraft like the B-52, because it was bombers like this that devastated the North during the Korean War.
North Korea has also blasted U.S.-Japan-South Korea military cooperation.
In an editorial Friday, North Korean state media called the air drill an “intentional nuclear war” provocation.
North Korea has rapidly expanded its number of nuclear weapons in recent years, and now regularly threatens to conduct preemptive strikes if necessary.