South Korea and United States have launched Vigilant Ace, their largest-ever joint aerial drills. The exercise comes after North Korea tested Hwasong-15, its most advanced and powerful Inter Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) as part of its weapons programme.
Vigilant Ace is annual US-South Korean drill designed to enhance their readiness and operational capability and to ensure peace and security on Korean peninsula. More than 12,000 service members from US will join airmen from South Korea in air combat exercise. Troops from US Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy will train with 230 South Korean and US aircraft, including six F-22 Raptors and 18 F-35 Lightning II fighter jets. Of 18 F-35s, six are F-35A models from Air Force and 12 are F-35B models from Marine Corps. The fighters will fly to Korean Peninsula from Kadena Air Base on Okinawa, Japan.
The isolated and impoverished North Korea has staged six increasingly powerful atomic tests since 2006 – most recently in September 2017. It nuclear and missile programmes have made significant progress under leader Kim Jong-Un, who has overseen four nuclear tests and dozens of missile launches since taking power in 2011.
Recently in November 2017, North Korea had claimed that Hwasong 15 ICBM is capable of delivering a “super-large” nuclear warhead anywhere in US mainland. Even experts supported the claim and held that latest test showed a big improvement in potential range. They are also sceptical that North Korea has mastered sophisticated technology required to protect such warhead from extreme temperatures and stresses encountered during re-entry of missile to Earth.