SOUTH KOREA — The U.S. military flew four of its most advanced fighter jets low over South Korea on Wednesday in a show of force after recent North Korean actions that have heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
The four U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptors landed at Osan Air Base after the flyover, joining South Korean F-15 and U.S. F-16 fighter jets on the flight line.
“This mission demonstrates the strength of the alliance between the United States and the Republic of Korea, and the resolve of both nations to maintain stability on the Korean Peninsula,” Lt. Gen. Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, commander of U.S. Seventh Air Force and deputy commander of United Nations Command/U.S. Forces Korea, said in a statement from U.S. Forces Korea.
Gen. Jeong Byung-doo, chief of staff of the South Korean air force, thanked the aviators involved in the flyover.
“They demonstrated commanding spirit to the world and resolve to crush the enemy’s reckless provocation through the successful combined flyover. We will further develop the relationship of cooperation to support peace on the Korean Peninsula and in the world,” Jeong said in the U.S. Forces statement.
The show of force came 10 days after North Korea used a long-range rocket to fire a satellite into space.
The launch triggered a wave of international condemnation and prompted strong reaction from an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council.
North Korea said the launch was for scientific and “peaceful purposes.”
The United States and other nations widely viewed the deployment of the dual-use technology as a front to test a ballistic missile, especially coming on the heels of a purported hydrogen bomb test last month.
After January’s purported bomb test, the United States flew a B-52 bomber from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam over Osan in a show of force, and the Air Force has made similar shows over the past several years.
The F-22 flight puts some of the U.S. top technology in the spotlight.
“The F-22 Raptor is the most capable air superiority fighter in the world, and it represents one of many capabilities available for the defense of this great nation. The U.S. maintains an ironclad commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea,” O’Shaughnessy said.
The stealthy F-22s became operational in 2005 but only saw their first combat in attacks on ISIS positions in Syria in late 2014.
“The F-22 cannot be matched by any known or projected fighter aircraft,” says the Air Force’s fact sheet for the Raptor, each of which costs about $143 million.
The F-22 flight came less than two weeks after the U.S. Army sent a Patriot ballistic missile defense battery from Texas to South Korea. It marked the first time a U.S.-based battery was integrated into existing missile defense in South Korea.
“We have taken ballistic missile defense readiness on the Korean Peninsula to new heights,” Col. Mark Holler, commander of the 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, said in a statement.
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Anti-ballistic missiles considered for South Korea
Ballistic missile defense will be taken to even greater heights if U.S.-South Korea talks to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense yield results.
The system, known as THAAD, consists of truck-mounted anti-ballistic missiles capable of intercepting incoming missiles either in or above the atmosphere. They are directed by the “largest air-transportable x-band radar in the world,” according to their manufacturer, Lockheed-Martin.
“THAAD would add an important capability in a layered and effective missile defense,” Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said in a briefing this month.
But sending the advanced missile defense to South Korea could complicate U.S. relations with China, already strained by Chinese military moves in the South China Sea.
“The deployment of such a system would exacerbate regional tensions and seriously harm China’s strategic security interests as well as the security interests of other countries in the region,” China’s state-run Xinhua news agency reported Tuesday in a story from Seoul, attributing the concerns to Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui.
“We are hoping that the related parties would seriously consider the concerns of China and be prudent with what they do,” Zhang is quoted as saying.
In a commentary on Chinese state-run CCTV.com, Han Xudong, a professor at China’s National Defense University, said THAAD deployment in South Korea would destabilize the region.
“The deployment will enable the U.S. to occupy a dominant position both in attack and defense missile capabilities. It will dominate the world to maintain its hegemony,” Han wrote.
Positioning the THAAD system in South Korea would also threaten Russia and China, Han wrote.
“Once THAAD is deployed to the ‘doorway’ of Russia and China, it means that the strategic campaign missiles of the two countries are subject to be intercepted, which will seriously weaken the strategic capabilities of Beijing and Moscow,” the Chinese professor wrote. “The two countries will not take the issue lightly. To maintain their strategic interests, they will undertake necessary countermeasures.”