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South Korea, US warplanes begin large-scale joint aerial drills amid tensions with N. Korea

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
US and South Korea begin one of their biggest joint aerial war games on October 31, 2022 with hundreds of warplanes staging mock attacks 24-hours-a-day. (File photo)

The United States and South Korea have kicked off large-scale five-day joint aerial drills with hundreds of warplanes staging mock attacks round the clock amid growing tensions with North Korea. 

The war games -- dubbed "Vigilant Storm" – which features nearly 240 warplanes conducting about 1,600 sorties, began on Monday and are due to continue until Friday, US Air Force said in a statement last week, boasting that it marks the highest-ever number for the annual war games.

"(South Korea) and US Air Forces will work together with the joint services to perform major air missions such as close air support, defensive counter air, and emergency air operations 24 hours a day during the training period," the US Air Force said.

"Support forces on the ground will also train their base defense procedures and survivability in case of attack," the statement added.

The statement said the war game will include variants of the F-35 stealth jetfighter from both the US and South Korea, among other warplanes, adding that Australia will also take part by deploying an aerial refueling aircraft for the maneuvers.

The joint maneuvers drew strong condemnation from North Korea, which regards the frequent war games by US and South Korean forces as rehearsals for invading the North and proof of aggressive policies by the two allies.

To protest and retaliate against recent massive war games conducted jointly by American, South Korean and Japanese forces, Pyongyang has launched missile tests, conducted aerial drills, and fired artillery shells into the sea.

The US-led allies insist that such war games are necessary to counter purported threats from North Korea, which has carried out a record number of missile tests this year as well as preparing to resume nuclear testing for the first time since 2017.

The military drills began just days after US and South Korean forces concluded their 12-day Hoguk war games on Friday that included 22 field exercises, featuring mock amphibious landings and river crossings.

North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) off the east coast of the Korean Peninsula on Friday in response to the Hoguk military drills. 

South Korea's military reported the launches in a statement earlier in the day, saying the SRBMs were fired from the Tongcheon area of Gangwon province on North Korea's east coast.

The South's Joint Chiefs of Staff said it "detected two ballistic missiles... between 1159 (0259 GMT) and 1218," adding that the country's military "has increased monitoring and surveillance and is maintaining a full readiness posture in close coordination with the US.”

The Tongchon launch site is located some 60 kilometers from the inter-Korean border.

Pyongyang justified the missile tests as a "countermeasure" against the joint US-South Korea war games, with North Korean state media publishing statements from the military condemning the "enemy's war drills" and demanding them to be halted.

North Korea, meanwhile, maintains that it will not tolerate persisting US-led war games in the area, underlining that it will continue responding to the joint military maneuvers by holding its own drills as well as developing and testing all sorts of weaponry, including missiles that could reach as far as the US mainland.

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