Us Flies B-1B Bomber For First Precision Bomb Drill In 7 Years As Tensions Simmer With North Korea

In this photo provided by the South Korea Defense Ministry, U.S. Air Force B-1B bomber, left, and South Korean fighter jets F-15K fly over the Korean Peninsula during the joint aerial drills between South Korea and the United States, South Korea, Wednesday, June 5, 2024. (South Korea Defense Ministry via AP)
In this photo provided by the South Korea Defense Ministry, U.S. Air Force B-1B bomber, left, and South Korean fighter jets F-15K fly over the Korean Peninsula during the joint aerial drills between South Korea and the United States, South Korea, Wednesday, June 5, 2024. (South Korea Defense Ministry via AP)
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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The United States flew a long-range B-1B bomber over the Korean Peninsula on Wednesday for its first precision-guided bombing drill with South Korea in seven years, the South's military said.

The drill — seen as a show of force against North Korea — comes as tensions are rising over the North's recent launches of rubbish-carrying balloons toward South Korea and other provocations.

Wednesday's training involved other advanced U.S. and South Korean fighter jets as well as the B-1B aircraft, the second U.S. bomber temporarily deployed over the Korean Peninsula this year. The exercise was meant to demonstrate the U.S. security commitment to South Korea and strengthen the allies' joint defense posture, according to the South Korean Defense Ministry.

During the training, the B-1B dropped Joint Direct Attack Munitions while being escorted by South Korean jets, the first such bombing drill for a U.S. bomber since 2017, a ministry statement said.

It said South Korean fighter jets also conducted live-firing exercises to demonstrate the country's readiness to punish North Korea if provoked, it said.

JDAM bombs include “bunker-busters.” JDAM is a guidance system that converts unguided, conventional bombs into more precise, GPS-guided weapons. All U.S. fighter jets, bombers and drones can use JDAMs, and the munitions are among the weapons systems the United States has been providing to Ukraine to help it fight Russia's invasion.

North Korea is extremely sensitive to drills using bunker-buster bombs, which could threaten its leadership and complex web of underground military tunnels and structures.

A B-1B is capable of carrying a large conventional weapons payload. North Korean has previously called the bomber’s deployment proof of U.S. hostility. North Korea has responded to past flights of B-1Bs and other powerful U.S. aircraft in South Korea with its own missile tests.

In the past week, North Korea floated hundreds of huge balloons to drop manure, cigarette butts, scraps of cloth and waste batteries across South Korea, in anger over previous campaigns by South Korean civilians to send balloons with leaflets and other items into North Korea. South Korea responded with a promise to take “unbearable” retaliatory steps and suspended a fragile military deal with North Korea calling on both sides to reduce tensions along their border.

The suspension of the 2018 inter-Korean deal allows South Korea to resume military activities like live-fire drills or anti-North Korean propaganda broadcasts via loudspeakers in border areas. Such steps will likely prompt North Korea to take provocative steps in response.

Recently, North Korea launched a rocket in an attempt to place a second spy satellite into orbit in violation of U.N. resolutions, but it blew up shortly after liftoff. It also test-fired nuclear-capable weapons for a drill simulating a pre-emptive strike on South Korea, and allegedly jammed GPS navigation signals in South Korea.

Since 2022, North Korea has sharply accelerated the pace of missile tests in what foreign experts call an attempt to build a bigger nuclear arsenal and increase its leverage in future diplomacy with the U.S. Nuclear disarmament negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington remain dormant since 2019.