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US sends F-35 stealth warplanes to South Korea, escalates tensions with North Korea

The US Air Force’s F-35 stealth warplanes during an exercise at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, Jan. 6, 2020.

The US Air Force has sent F-35 stealth warplanes to South Korea to carry out maneuvers, with a New York-based analyst saying the deployment of these destabilizing weapons will likely be viewed as a First Strike threat by North Korea.

US Forces Korea said in a statement on Tuesday that the fighter jets along with several others will participate in a 10-day training mission, flying over South Korea and surrounding waters.

South Korean F-35 jets are expected to fly with American aircraft.

“The familiarization and routine training flights will enhance the interoperability of the two Air Forces to perform and operate on and around the Korean Peninsula,” the statement said.

“The aviation training is also an opportunity for the aircrews to perform sustainment and maintenance duties to support the latest in military aircraft technology,” it added.

"Pyongyang claims, with some weight, to be the legitimate government of Korea, viewing Seoul in the same manner that the world viewed Vichy, France," said New York-based journalist Don Debar. 

"South Korea is essentially the same land that was captured by Imperial Japan. The US succeeded to it by conquering Japan and then replacing the Japanese occupation troops with American occupation troops," he added. 

"The placement of these destabilizing weapons that are clearly intended for First Strike capability are legitimate targets, in their eyes, under a doctrine of self-defense. I'm certain this is known at the Pentagon and in Langley, and certainly in Beijing and Moscow," he told Press TV on Tuesday.

"This is a very dangerous provocation in the present context, especially when aggregated with others such as the encirclement of Kaliningrad and the ascension of Finland and Norway to NATO - and, of course, the bombing of Russian cities and killing of Russian civilians, ostensibly by Ukraine, but utilizing weaponry conveyed by the US and its NATO allies and used by troops trained - and some say commanded - by the US and NATO," he concluded. 

South Korea’s defense ministry said in a separate statement the flight operations are aimed at “demonstrating the South Korea-US alliance’s strong deterrence and combined defense posture, as well as improving interoperability between the two Air Forces.”

The US has publically deployed F-35 aircraft to South Korea first time since December 2017, when it sent F-22 stealth fighters and F-35 aircraft to participate in a joint aerial drill.

The drills come as the US is escalating tensions with North Korea. In response, Pyongyang is ramping up its missile tests.

The US and its allies reportedly flew dozens of jets over the Korean Peninsula last month in a provocative move against North Korea.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and US President Joe Biden met in May in Seoul where they vowed to expand combined military drills around the Korean Peninsula.

“Both leaders agree to initiate discussions to expand the scope and scale of combined military exercises and training on and around the Korean Peninsula,” the leaders said in a joint statement on May 21.

Washington also declared to “deploy strategic US military assets in a timely and coordinated manner as necessary, as well as to enhance such measures and identify new or additional steps to reinforce deterrence in the face of DPRK destabilizing activities.”

Last month,  the Biden administration threatened North Korea with a “swift and forceful response” if Pyongyang conducts a nuclear test.

“There would be a swift and forceful response to such a test,” US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman told a news conference on June 7 after meeting her South Korean counterpart Cho Hyun-dong in Seoul.

Her remarks were followed by a joint air power demonstration, adding to simmering tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

The maneuvers, which involved 20 warplanes including F-35A stealth fighter jets over the West Sea, came a day after Washington and Seoul jointly fired eight surface-to-surface missiles off South Korea's east coast.

Seoul's Joint Chiefs of Staff said, “South Korea and the United States demonstrated their strong ability and determination to quickly and accurately strike any North Korean provocation.”

US officials accuse Pyongyang of new signs of construction at Punggye-ri, North Korea’s only known nuclear test site and claim that the allies’ joint demonstrations are in response to North Korea’s missile tests.

North Korea has tested a number of ballistic missiles this year, including massive intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), new hypersonic missiles, and a short-range missile potentially designed for tactical nuclear weapons.

It maintains that its weapons tests are a defensive measure against threats posed by the massive presence of US forces near its territorial waters and the regular holding of joint US-led war games with Japan with South Korea.

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