US, South Korea kick off largest air exercise amid North Korean warnings

The US and South Korea have on Monday kicked off their largest-ever joint air exercise, an operation North Korea has labelled an “all-out provocation”, days after Pyongyang fired its most potent intercontinental ballistic missile.

The five-day Vigilant Ace drill will run until Friday. The massive exercise will witness the two countries rehearsing for a full-scale war with North Korea.

A South Korea-based U.S. Air Force spokesman said the massive drill involves 230 aircraft, including F-22 Raptor stealth jet fighters and state-of-the-art F-35 Lightning IIs.

US warplanes including fighters and bombers often blast over the Korean Peninsula

Around 12,000 U.S. service members, including from the Marines and Navy, will join South Korean troops. Aircraft taking part were flown from eight U.S. and South Korean military installations.

Pyongyang over the weekend blasted the drill, accusing US President Donald’s Trump’s administration of “begging for nuclear war”.

The annual exercise comes five days after the nuclear-armed North test-fired a new ICBM (Hwasong 15), which it says brings the whole of the United States within range.

Pyongyang blamed President Trump for raising tensions and warned at the weekend the Vigilant Ace exercise was pushing tensions on the Korean peninsula towards “a flare-up.”

North Korea’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country called Trump “insane” on Sunday and said the drill would “push the already acute situation on the Korean peninsula to the brink of nuclear war”.

The isolated and impoverished North has staged six increasingly powerful atomic tests since 2006 – most recently in September.

Analysts agree that the latest test showed a big improvement in potential range, but say it was likely achieved using a dummy warhead that would have been quite light.

They say a missile carrying a much heavier nuclear warhead would struggle to travel as far.

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