Japan seeks funds to boost missile ranges
SEOUL, South Korea, Aug 31, (Agencies): The United States fl ew some of its most advanced warplanes in bombing drills with ally South Korea on Thursday, a clear warning after North Korea launched a midrange ballistic missile designed to carry nuclear bombs over Japan earlier this week, South Korea’s military said.
North Korea hates such displays of US military might at close range and will likely respond with fury. Two US B-1B supersonic bombers and four F-35 stealth fighter jets joined four South Korean F-15 fighters in live-fire exercises at a military field in eastern South Korea that simulated precision strikes against the North’s “core facilities,” an official from Seoul’s Defense Ministry said. The B-1Bs were fl own in from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam while the F-35s came from a US base in Iwakuni, Japan, the official said. He didn’t want to be named, citing office rules.
The North, which claims Washington has long threatened Pyongyang by flaunting the powerful US nuclear arsenal, describes the longrange B-1Bs as “nuclear strategic bombers” although the United States no longer arms them with nuclear weapons. A strong North Korean reaction to the drills is almost certain. The dueling military displays open up the risk that things will get worse as each side seeks to show it won’t be intimidated.
North Korea has made it clear that it sees its weapons program, which demands regular testing to perfect, as the only way to contest decades of US hostility, by which it means the huge US military presence in South Korea, Japan and the Pacific. Washington, in turn, seeks with its joint drills with Seoul and bomber flights to show that it will not be pushed from its traditional role of supremacy in the region.
More missile tests, more bomber flyovers and three angry armies facing each other across the world’s most heavily armed border raises the possibility that a miscalculation could lead to real fighting. The US Pacific Command said the exercises were conducted in direct response to North Korea’s recent missile launch. Over the course of a 10-hour mission, the B-1Bs, F-35Bs and two Japanese F-15 fighters first flew together over waters near Kyushu, Japan. The US and South Korean warplanes then flew across the Korean Peninsula and participated in the live-fire training before returning to their respective home stations, according to the Pacific Command. “North Korea’s actions are a threat to our allies, partners and homeland, and their destabilizing actions will be met accordingly,” Gen Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, commander of the US Pacific Air Forces, said in a statement.
“This complex mission clearly demonstrates our solidarity with our allies and underscores the broadening cooperation to defend against this common regional threat. Our forward-deployed force will be the first to the fight, ready to deliver a lethal response at a moment’s notice if our nation calls.” In Beijing, North Korea’s ally China warned that war is not an option in finding a solution to Pyongyang’s growing nuclear capabilities. Meanwhile, Japan’s defence ministry on Thursday sought $160 million in a record budget request to develop swift, longer-range missiles to extend its military punch in East Asia, countering growing Chinese strength and an increasing North Korean threat. If approved, the proposal for a rise of 2.5 percent in defence spending to 5.26 trillion yen ($48 billion) for the year starting April 1 would be the sixth straight annual increase as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe bolsters the military. The funds will pay for ballistic missile defence upgrades, six F-35 stealth fighters, four V-22 Osprey tilt rotor troop carriers, besides orders for new naval vessels, including a submarine and two compact warships. Around $90 million of the requested missile development funds of $160 million will go on studying hypersonic missiles to quickly penetrate enemy defences. The rest will pay for research on extending missile range, technology that could potentially be used to help develop strike weapons. South Korea’s air force conducted an exercise with two US nuclearcapable bombers above the Korean peninsula on Thursday, two days after a North Korean missile fired over Japan sharply raised tension.
“The research and development is for island defence,” a Ministry of Defence official told a briefing, referring to the southwestern Okinawa island chain skirting the East China Sea, where Japan is embroiled in a territorial dispute with China. The funding for missile development, though relatively small, could nonetheless spark controversy, since Japan’s war-renouncing constitution imposes restrictions on strike weapons for the military.