Sometime this week, a U.S. Air Force B-52H Stratofortress will make a rare bomber landing in South Korea, according to several media reports. The landing will come amid resurgent tensions with Pyongyang.
While the South Korean Yonhap News Agency said it would be the first such landing of a B-52 in South Korea, Stars and Stripes reported that it would be the first in at least 30 years. Either way, U.S. strategic bombers like the B-52, B-1 Lancer or B-2 Spirit rarely land in South Korea. The last time a Lancer landed there was 2016 at Osan Air Base. That was the first time in nearly two decades.
In addition to the B-52 landing in South Korea, the U.S. Air Force said the bomber will conduct two flyovers over South Korea the during the Seoul International Aerospace & Defense Exhibition (Seoul ADEX) 2023, according to Yonhap. ADEX runs from Tuesday to Sunday at Seoul Air Base in Seongnam, just south of Seoul.
"These flyovers, air demonstrations and static displays, including the landing for the B-52 on the peninsula, is part of our continued pledge to promote peace, stability and prosperity on the Korean peninsula," Maj. Rachel Buitrago, 7th Air Force public affairs director, said in a release.
ADEX “will showcase various homegrown aircraft and ground-based equipment, including the KF-21 fighter jet under development, FA-50 light fighter, K2 main battle tanks and K9A1 self-propelled howitzers,” according to Yonhap. “The U.S. military will also feature F-22 and FA-18G aircraft during the exhibition to mark the 70th anniversary of the South Korea-U.S. alliance this year.”
On the way to South Korea, a two-ship flight of B-52s had to be warned about a volcanic ash cloud from the Klyuchevskoy volcano on Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula, according to radio chatter picked up and posted on Twitter by @thenewarea51.
There was a little levity, unintended or otherwise, in the conversation between one of the B-52's crew and air traffic control.
"I'm not going to pronounce the volcano," the air traffic controller said with a slight lilt in his voice.
It isn't clear where the other bomber will go. It's possible it will head in another direction at some point or it could recover with its companion in South Korea, although all info so far has said only one bomber will be landing there.
B-52’s flying over South Korea are far more common than landing there. They have flown over the airspace several times this year as shows of force following North Korean missile tests, according to Stars and Stripes.
“A B-52H flew alongside four U.S. F-16s and three South Korean F-15K Slam Eagles for an escort drill on July 13, a day after the North fired an intercontinental ballistic missile that flew for 74 minutes, a flight record for the communist regime,” the publication reported. “A U.S. B-1 Lancer bomber also flew with F-35B Lightning IIs, F-22 Raptors and South Korean F-35As over the Yellow Sea during a joint airpower drill on Feb. 1.”
The issue of the U.S. sending nuclear-capable platforms, even if they aren’t so armed, is a highly sensitive on the Korean peninsula. North Korea routinely claims the U.S. is threatening a nuclear war.
Just last week, the official KCNA North Korean news agency railed against the visit to Busan of the Ronald Reagan carrier strike group following joint drills with South Korea and Japan.
“It is an undisguised military provocation driving the situation to the irrevocable catastrophic circumstances that the U.S. persists in introducing various nuclear strategic assets into the Korean peninsula where a possibility of constant military collision exists and the danger of outbreak of a nuclear war is rampant,” the KCNA report read, according to The Hill.
North Korea, meanwhile, has conducted multiple ballistic missile tests this year. Earlier this month, it also halted the nuclear reactor at its main atomic complex, probably to extract plutonium that could be used for weapons by reprocessing spent fuel rods, a South Korean news report said on Thursday, citing a government source, Reuters reported.
We don't know for sure when the B-52 will land in South Korea or what the reaction will be from North Korea.
We'll provide additional information about that when it becomes available.
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