Two dozen American stealth jets and several weapons are being mobilised as the US and South Korea embarked on a massive aerial drill on Monday, 4 December, in a strong show of force against the reclusive North Korean regime.
The joint drill, codenamed Vigilant ACE (air combat exercise), is taking place within days of Pyongyang's launch of a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), although the exercise was scheduled before the North's provocative act.
More than 230 warplanes including six F-22 Raptors and six F-35As along with 12,000 personnel will take part in what has been dubbed as the largest-ever air force drill between the two allies.
Both the F-22 Raptors and F-35As are already temporarily deployed in South Korea.
This is the first time six F-22 Raptors are participating in a drill in the region. "It's aimed at enhancing the all-weather, day and night combined air power operation capabilities of South Korea and the US," said the South Korean defence ministry.
Apart from the Raptors and F-35s, two nuclear-capable Lancer bombers, six EA-18G Growler electronic warfare jets, and dozens of F-15C and F-16s will also take part in the exercise.
The North, which considers such annual exercises as a rehearsal by the US for an actual invasion, has already heaped scorn on the drill. An editorial carried by the North Korean mouthpiece Rodong Sinmun said the drill is "an open, all-out provocation" and that it "may lead to a nuclear war at any moment".
South Korean officials insisted the exercise is only for the defensive purposes. "The air force drill is an annual joint military exercise among the allies of a defensive nature. The government will not comment on every reaction by North Korea," said Baik Tae-hyun, a spokesman for Seoul's unification ministry.
Referring to Pyongyang's earlier claim that its nuclear programme has been completed with the launch of its latest missile, Baik said: "The government does not accept the North's 'unilateral' claim to completing its nuclear programme. We are making efforts to resolve the North's nuclear issue peacefully with the international community."