Fighter jets from the South Korean and U.S. air forces staged intensive exercises Tuesday simulating search and rescue missions of pilots in war situations, Air Force officials said Tuesday.
The Tuesday exercises are part of annual, 12-day joint aerial maneuvers by the two air forces to test their ability to fight against North Korea in event of war, as the North’s saber-rattling increases.
About 50 warplanes, including a U.S. aerial refueling aircraft, are taking part in the Max Thunder exercise, which will run through Friday.
On Tuesday, a squadron of “enemy” forces including South Korean F-15K and F-5F fighters engaged with U.S. warplanes labeled the “friendlies” in the exercises, Air Force officials said.
Gen. Park Shin-kyu, commander of the South Korean Air Force Operations Command, flew an F-5F fighter, while Lt. Gen. Jan-Marc Jouas, commander of the U.S. 7th Air Force flew a U.S. fighter jet Tuesday, according to the officials.
Hundreds of pilots were mobilized for the drill over the southwestern airspace of the Korean Peninsula.
Training missions include simulating air battles with four to eight jets, air refueling from a KC-135 Stratotanker and neutralizing an enemy’s air defense system in case of all-out war, officials said.
There is growing speculation that North Korea may stage another provocation, possibly a third nuclear test, following the failed launch of its long-range rocket last month.
North Korea defiantly launched the rocket on April 13 despite international condemnations, only to have it break apart soon after the launch.
Since late last month, the North has warned of “special action” against the South, saying it will “soon” turn the South Korean government and other specific targets into “ashes.”