By Jun Ji-hye
Military tension surrounding the Korean Peninsula is escalating dangerously, with Washington and Pyongyang intensifying their war of words and the United States flying B-1B Lancer bombers off the North Korean coast.
North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho has said missile attacks against the U.S. mainland would be inevitable as U.S. President Donald Trump has kept insulting the dignity of the Kim Jong-un regime.
In an address to the United Nations General Assembly, Sunday, Ri angrily responded to Trump's earlier speech Tuesday, in which he referred to Kim as "rocket man." At the time, Trump also threatened to "totally destroy" the North if the U.S. was forced to defend itself or its allies against a North Korean attack.
Ri said Trump's insult makes "our rocket's visit to the entire U.S. mainland all the more inevitable," calling him a "mentally deranged" person who used "reckless and violent words."
Ri also said his country will take "merciless preventive action" if Washington shows any signs of a "decapitating operation on our headquarters or a military attack against our country."
"None other than Trump himself is on a suicide mission," Ri said. "In the case innocent lives of the U.S. are harmed because of this suicide attack, Trump will be held totally responsible."
Pyongyang's top diplomat also downplayed the latest U.N. sanctions imposed on the North for its sixth nuclear test as "unjustifiable." On Sept. 11, the U.N. Security Council unanimously approved the new sanctions resolution, targeting oil supplies to the impoverished state for the first time.
Trump responded to Ri's speech on Twitter, saying, "Just heard Foreign Minister of North Korea speak at U.N. If he echoes thoughts of Little Rocket Man, they won't be around much longer!"
On Friday, the North's young leader released a statement to criticize Trump's U.N. speech. Calling the U.S. president "a rogue and a gangster fond of playing with fire, rather than a politician," Kim said "we will consider with seriousness exercising of a corresponding, highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history" in response to Trump's threat to destroy the North.
Referring to Kim's statement, Ri told reporters in New York that the repressive state could conduct the most powerful detonation of a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific.
On Sunday, the North's state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported more than 100,000 North Korean people held a massive anti-U.S. demonstration in Pyongyang over the weekend.
Show-of-force by US
Hours before Ri delivered his speech, the U.S. armed forces flew B-1B Lancer bombers further north of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) than any other American warplanes in the 21st century, adding fuel to the ongoing war of words between Washington and Pyongyang.
The Pentagon announced that U.S. Air Force (USAF) B-1B bombers from Guam, along with USAF F-15C Eagle fighter escorts from Okinawa in Japan, flew in international airspace over waters east of North Korea.
"This is the farthest north of the DMZ any U.S. fighter or bomber aircraft have flown off North Korea's coast in the 21st century, underscoring the seriousness with which we take the DPRK's reckless behavior," Pentagon spokeswoman Dana W. White said.
DPRK stands for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the North's official name.
"This mission is a demonstration of U.S. resolve and a clear message that the president has many military options to defeat any threat. North Korea's weapons program is a grave threat to the Asia-Pacific region and the entire international community," she said. "We are prepared to use the full range of military capabilities to defend the U.S. homeland and our allies."
The B-1B is a four-engine supersonic, variable-sweep wing, strategic bomber with a speed of Mach 2. The aircraft is capable of carrying the largest payload of both guided and unguided weapons in the USAF inventory.
The aircraft was designed as a nuclear bomber but is no longer armed with nuclear weapons in accordance with a bilateral treaty between the United States and Russia on the reduction and limitation of strategic offensive arms. But the Lancer is capable of carrying the AGM-86B air launch cruise missile (ALCM) and the AGM-69 short-range attack missile, which are capable of striking the North's key nuclear facilities as well as its military leadership.
B-1B 폭격기… 北도발시 출동하는 핵심 전략무기
지난 18일에는 MDL 인근까지 비행…유도폭탄 등 61t 탑재 가능
미국이 북한 동해 국제공역까지 출격시킨 B-1B 랜서는 '죽음의 백조'라는 별명을 가진 전략폭격기로 최근 북한이 탄도미사일 발사 등 도발할 때마다 한반도에 단골로 출동해 왔다.
지난 18일에도 2대가 괌 기지에서 한반도로 출격해 F-35B 스텔스 전투기와 함께 군사분계선(MDL) 인근까지 비행하기도 했다.
모양이 백조를 연상시켜 '죽음의 백조'라는 별명을 가진 B-1B는 B-52, B-2 '스피릿'과 함께 미국의 3대 전략폭격기로 불린다. 유사시 적지를 융단폭격할 수 있는 가공할 파괴력을 갖춘 것으로 평가된다.
최대 탑재량은 기체 내부 34t, 날개를 포함한 외부 27t 등 61t에 달해 B-52나 B-2보다 많다. 이 때문에 한 번 출격으로 대량의 폭탄을 투하할 수 있다. 전문가들은 유사시 B-1B 3∼4대가 평양 상공에서 동시에 작전하면 평양 중심지역은 쑥대밭으로 변할 정도로 가공할 위력을 갖췄다고 주장한다.
2천파운드급 MK-84 폭탄 24발, 500파운드급 MK-82 폭탄 84발, 2천파운드급 GBU-31 유도폭탄 24발 등을 탑재할 수 있다. B-52, B-2와는 달리 핵폭탄을 장착하지는 않는다.
최대속도가 마하 1.2로, B-52(시속 957㎞), B-2(마하 0.9)보다 빨라 유사시 괌 기지에서 이륙해 2시간이면 한반도에서 작전할 수 있다.
고속으로 적 전투기를 따돌리고 폭탄을 투하하는 데 최적화된 폭격기라는 평가를 받는다. 태평양 괌 앤더슨 공군기에 현재 6대가 배치된 것으로 알려졌다. B-1B가 한반도에 출격하면 공중급유기와 호위 전투기 등이 모두 떠야 하므로 한번 출격하면 이들 전력의 부대 비용까지 합해 20억∼30억원 가량의 비용이 소요될 것으로 전문가들은 추정하고 있다.
미국 NBC 방송은 지난 8월 복수의 고위 군 관계자와 제임스 스타브리디스 전 나토(북대서양조약기구) 사령관, 태평양 공군 사령관을 지낸 테렌스 오쇼네이 중장 등 퇴역 장성들을 인용해 도널드 트럼프 대통령이 공격명령을 내리면 괌에 배치된 B-1B가 선제타격의 핵심이 될 것이라고 보도한 바 있다.(연합)