US, S. Korea to stage massive air exercise in show of force

Each F-22 aircraft costs around $150 million, which soars to over $330 million when research and development are priced in (AFP Photo/Andrew CABALLERO-REYNOLDS)

The United States will send stealth fighters to a large-scale air force drill with South Korea next month, the US military said Friday, in a new show of force aimed at North Korea.

The massive five-day annual exercise comes as Washington pushes what President Donald Trump has called a "maximum pressure campaign" against Pyongyang over its nuclear programme.

The exercise, named Vigilant Ace, starts on December 4 with 12,000 US personnel and an unspecified number of South Korean airmen flying more than 230 aircraft at eight US and South Korean military bases.

Six F-22 Raptor stealth fighters will be deployed to South Korea for the exercise, a US Air Force spokesman told AFP.

The supersonic Raptor is one of the most advanced warplanes in the world, capable of providing what its maker Lockheed Martin calls "unprecedented air dominance".

"This realistic air combat exercise is designed to enhance interoperability between US and Republic of Korea forces and increase the combat effectiveness of both nations", the US Seventh Air Force said in a statement.

Pyongyang routinely condemns such exercises, labelling them preparation for war.

Local media reported that the American warplanes will conduct precision strike drills with South Korean fighter jets.

North Korea has carried out a flurry of missile tests this year -- including intercontinental ballistic variants apparently capable of hitting the US mainland -- and tested what it claimed was a thermonuclear weapon in September.

The tests have prompted shows of force and sanctions from Washington.

Trump on Monday declared North Korea a state sponsor of terrorism, adding the country back to a US blacklist Pyongyang was removed from nearly a decade ago.

Earlier this month, the US flew two B-1B supersonic bombers over the Korean peninsula as part of a joint exercise with Japan and South Korea.

That was followed by a joint naval drill involving three US aircraft carriers and seven South Korean warships, the first such triple-carrier exercise in the region for a decade.

The US also unveiled fresh sanctions that target North Korean shipping, raising the pressure on the Pyongyang in a bid to make it abandon its nuclear programme.

Pyongyang condemned the listing as a "serious provocation" on Wednesday, warning that sanctions would never force it to abandon its nuclear weapons programme.

China, the North's sole ally, has also said the new US sanctions -- which also target Chinese companies doing business with the pariah state -- are "wrong".

Russia said Thursday that the US decision to add North Korea to its terror blacklist was a "PR move" that could allow the situation on the peninsula to escalate into a global "catastrophe".

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