B-1B strategic bombers of the U.S. Air Force may drop live bombs in a joint exercise in South Korea as early as Friday instead of conducting a simulation-based bombing drill, military sources said Thursday.
The bombing exercise is aimed at striking North Korea's nuclear and missile facilities ― a show of force following the North's test-firing of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) Tuesday.
In past exercises the U.S. Air Force has dropped dummy bombs filled with cement or followed a simulation-based training program.
The B-1B Lancers, based at the Andersen Air Force Base in Guam, have been dispatched to the peninsula several times recently and the ROK Air Force has conducted regular exercises with them ― generally after a provocative military action by the North.
"B-1B strategic bombers plan to fly here as early as Friday and if the weather permits, are highly likely to drop live conventional bombs or guided precision munitions in the drill," a source said.
The U.S. may send more strategic military assets to the peninsula to counter the North's missile threats, the source added.
One day after the North tested an ICBM, Seoul and Washington launched ballistic missiles in a joint drill. This was the first time that the allies fired ballistic missiles in reaction to a North Korean provocation.
A military official said B-1Bs have been dispatched here twice a month on average amid rising military tension on the peninsula.
The latest over-flight was June 20 after the death of Otto Warmbier, an American college student who was released from the North in a coma after being detained for 17 months.
It was also after President Moon Jae-in's special presidential adviser for unification, security and foreign affairs, Moon Chung-in made a controversial remark where he suggested a willingness to reduce the scale of the allies' military exercises and the frequency of the dispatch of strategic assets to the peninsula if North Korea suspended its nuclear and missile programs.
The dispatch then was construed as the U.S.'s circuitous expression of discontent with Moon's remark.
The strategic bombers flew over the East Sea five hours after Pyongyang fired a ballistic missile May 29. They also took part in a joint exercise with South Korean fighters May 1.
The B-1B Lancer is capable of reaching the peninsula from Guam in just two hours with a load of up to 56 tons of munitions. It is the fastest of the U.S. military's three major multi-role, long-range bombers including the B-52 Stratofortress and the B-2 Spirit.