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US and South Korea fly warplanes in interception drill after North missile tests

North Korea has ramped up its weapons tests since 2022 in what experts call an attempt to increase its leverage in future diplomacy.

A South Korean Air Force F-15K fighter jet takes off from a South Korean Air Force base in Cheongju, South Korea (South Korea Defence Ministry via AP)
A South Korean Air Force F-15K fighter jet takes off from a South Korean Air Force base in Cheongju, South Korea A South Korean Air Force F-15K fighter jet takes off from a South Korean Air Force base in Cheongju, South Korea (South Korea Defence Ministry via AP) (AP)

South Korea and the United States have flown advanced stealth fighters in a joint missile-interception drill over the Korean Peninsula, South Korea’s Air Force said.

The drill was an apparent response to a spate of weapons tests this year by rival North Korea.

North Korea has conducted six rounds of missile tests so far this year, most of them reportedly involving cruise missiles that typically fly at a low altitude to overcome opponents’ missile defences.

Analysts say that in the event of a conflict, North Korea aims to use cruise missiles to strike US aircraft carriers as well as US military bases in Japan.

An F-35A fighter jet of the United States takes off from the US Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea (South Korea Defence Ministry via AP)
An F-35A fighter jet of the United States takes off from the US Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea An F-35A fighter jet of the United States takes off from the US Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea (South Korea Defence Ministry via AP) (AP)

South Korea’s Air Force said in a statement that the drill on Friday involved fifth-generation stealth F-35A fighter jets from both countries and other fighter jets from South Korea.

It said the US F-35As were deployed in South Korea on Wednesday from Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan.

North Korea has ramped up its weapons tests since 2022 in what experts call an attempt to increase its leverage in future diplomacy.

South Korea and the US have responded by expanding their military exercises and trilateral training involving Japan.

On the sidelines of a G20 meeting in Rio de Janeiro on Thursday, the top diplomats from South Korea, the US and Japan agreed to strengthen their joint response capability against North Korea’s evolving nuclear threats and co-ordinate to block the North’s financing of its nuclear programme, according to South Korea’s Foreign Ministry.

South Korean Air Force F-35A fighter jets prepare to take off from a South Korean Air Force base in Cheongju, South Korea (South Korea Defence Ministry via AP)
South Korean Air Force F-35A fighter jets prepare to take off from a South Korean Air Force base in Cheongju, South Korea South Korean Air Force F-35A fighter jets prepare to take off from a South Korean Air Force base in Cheongju, South Korea (South Korea Defence Ministry via AP) (AP)

This year, North Korea is expected to step up its testing activities and belligerent rhetoric as both the US and South Korea head into elections.

North Korea is likely seeking international recognition as a nuclear state, a status that experts say the North thinks would help it receive relief from US-led economic sanctions.

North Korea’s advancing nuclear arsenal is likely to have emboldened its stance, and there are concerns that the North may launch a limited military provocation against the South.

Observers say a full-scale attack is unlikely as the North is outgunned by more superior US and South Korean forces.

US and South Korean officials have repeatedly warned that any nuclear attack by North Korea against them would spell the end of the North’s government led by Kim Jong Un.