Special to WorldTribune.com
By Donald Kirk
WASHINGTON — U.S. and South Korean warplanes will be crisscrossing the skies above and around South Korea early next month in the biggest show of allied force against the North so far.
U.S. President Donald Trump and South Korea’s President Moon Jae-In agreed on the need to stage the exercise in defiance of the screams of pro-North advocates in both countries and in defiance of mounting North Korean threats.
Military planners from both countries decided to stage the exercise by 230 warplanes from Dec. 4 through Dec. 8 regardless of diplomatic efforts at reconciliation that are likely to fail. They believe North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-Un continues to plot strikes against critical American and South Korean facilities while ordering engineers and scientists to speed up the drive to fabricate a warhead that can fit on the tip of an intercontinental missile capable of reaching the U.S.
Next month’s exercise will feature warplanes from both American and South Korea’s defense forces in a wide range of exercises, including several whose aim is to practice “decapitation” of the North Korean regime.
Planes from all branches of both countries will join the exercise that will also depend on at least two U.S. aircraft carriers and other vessels. Both Navy and marine planes will be taking off from the decks of carriers while other planes will fly from U.S. bases in both South Korean and Japan.
One important aspect of the exercise will be to practice what the Pentagon calls “interoperability” of the U.S. and South Korean air forces. Pentagon planners said it was vital that the two air forces be able to operate closely together in the event of an outbreak of war with North Korea.
U.S. exercises will be dominated by such well known fighters as the F35, the newest in the U.S. inventory, and the F22 stealth aircraft capable of hiding from enemy radar U.S. B1 bombers based at Andersen Air Base on Guam and B52’s from the U.S. will also play major roles in a show of force that will demonstrate the ability of the U.S. and South Korea to annihilate North Korean missile and nuclear sites in “a matter of days or even hours.”
President Moon supported the exercise despite his efforts at reconciliation and dialogue with North Korea. He has made clear that he opposes a preemptive strike against North Korea but strongly supports efforts at strengthening South Korean defenses and has shocked pro-Northers by also calling for tightening mutual defense bonds with the U.S.
North Korea is certain to unleash rhetorical blasts against the U.S. and President Trump while suggesting that Moon is blindly falling into the hands of U.S. of Pentagon planners. China and Russia have both expressed concerns — China calling for restraint and warning against the possibility of a second Korean War.
The Pentagon, however, believes that the massive aerial display is needed while North Korea shows signs of planning to test another intercontinental ballistic missile capable in theory of carrying a warhead as far as the U.S.
American defense planners cited the need for U.S. and South Korean aircraft to be able to work together even more closely than was possible during an exercise earlier this month featuring three U.S. carrier groups. They pointed out that South Korean aircraft played a secondary role in that exercise and more training was needed to be sure they could operate effectively in tandem with American fighter planes.
For four days warplanes will be taking off from U.S. aircraft carriers and from U.S. airbases in South Korea and Japan, flying into the skies above not only South Korea but also the waters on both sides of the Korean peninsula. South Korean planes will be taking off simultaneously, working closely with the Americans.
The exercise bears the name, “Vigilant Ace” — a reminder of the need for ace pilots to maintain vigilance over the Korean peninsula at a critical point in its history. The Pentagon stressed that the upcoming exercise complements annual wargames staged by U.S. and South Korean ground forces focusing on fighting on the ground south of the demilitarized zone. U.S. and South Korean defense officials have strongly criticized calls for cancelling the wargames in the vain hope that North Korea would reciprocate by calling off its nuclear and missile programs.