|A U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer, assigned to 34th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, deploys flares during a Bomber Task Force mission over the Pacific Ocean in this June 25 photo. UPI-Yonhap|
By Kang Seung-woo
U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer aircraft are highly anticipated to fly over the Korean Peninsula as part of a planned combined air exercise with the South Korean Air Force ― a decision that can serve as a strong message to deter North Korea's belligerence.
Last week, four B-1Bs arrived in the U.S. territory of Guam for a Bomber Task Force mission amid concerns that Pyongyang's seventh nuclear test might be imminent. In June, four Lancers traveled to Andersen Air Force Base there for a similar reason.
As for their arrival, the U.S. Seventh Air Force said the Lancers will partner with more allies for several training missions in the Indo-Pacific region this time, raising conjectures that they might take part in the joint drills.
Starting Oct. 31, South Korea and the United States plan to carry out a large-scale aerial exercise, formerly known as Vigilant Ace, for a five-day run, and it will feature some 250 aircraft, including the F-35A and F-35B stealth jets, according to the South Korean military.
The B-1B is one of three nuclear-capable strategic bombers of the U.S. Air Force alongside the B-2 Spirit and B-52 Stratofortress, and it has often flown to the Korean Peninsula in order to show off the U.S.' extended deterrence when North Korea has stoked tensions.
North Korea is believed to be have been preparing for another nuclear test since the first half of the year. In addition, its closest ally, China, finished its National Congress of the Communist Party, Saturday, at which President Xi Jinping was re-elected for an unprecedented third five-year term.
As some had pointed out that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un would refrain from detonating another nuclear device so as not to disrupt Beijing's important political event, expectations are now running high over the possibility of the nuclear test and thus, the U.S. may send the bombers to the peninsula to deter any envisaged provocation.
"It is not appropriate to comment on whether the B-1Bs will participate because the detailed plans are not yet finalized," a military officer said.
However, the military are said to be considering the current situation on the peninsula to be as serious as it was in 2017, when North Korea threatened to test a hydrogen bomb in September 2017 and the B-1Bs flew off the North's eastern coast to send a strong warning to the country ― a mission that marked the farthest north of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) any U.S. fighter or bomber aircraft had flown off North Korea's coast during the 21st century.
In December 2017, one Lancer participated in the Vigilant Ace exercise as well.