Hundreds of warplanes take part in major U.S.-South Korea military air drills

The flags of South Korea and the United States flutter before a joint river-crossing drill between the two countries in Yeoju, South Korea, on Oct. 19.

SEOUL — The United States and South Korea on Monday began a major joint military air exercise involving about 240 warplanes, including state-of-the-art stealth fighters.

In the “Vigilant Storm” exercise operation, which will last through Friday, the U.S. and South Korean militaries are conducting drills under the assumption of a contingency on the Korean Peninsula, while sending a warning to North Korea, which is said to have completed preparations for its seventh nuclear test.

This is the largest military air exercise since the “Vigilant Ace” drill was carried out in late 2017 with more than 200 military planes participating, following North Korea’s sixth nuclear test.

These latest drills involve about 140 South Korean Air Force airplanes, including F-35A fighters, and about 100 U.S. jets. The U.S. military’s F-35B jets, which can land vertically and operate on an aircraft carrier, are also being deployed from the U.S. Marine Corps’ Iwakuni Air Station in Yamaguchi Prefecture. It will reportedly mark the first landing of F-35B jets at a base in South Korea. The Royal Australian Air Force is also joining the exercise with the deployment of a tanker transport.

According to the South Korean Air Force, drills will be conducted 24 hours a day in accordance with contingency scenarios. Fighters and other jets are expected to make about 1,600 sorties.

North Korea will possibly respond to the joint exercise with military provocations. According to South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency, Pyongyang condemned Washington and Seoul on its state-run website on Saturday, saying that their military exercise would escalate tensions on the Korean Peninsula.