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(2nd LD) U.S. to send B-1B bombers to S. Korea Tuesday

All Headlines 17:14 September 12, 2016

(ATTN: CHANGES headline, ADDS experts' comments in paras 5-9)
By Choi Kyong-ae

PYEONGTAEK, South Korea, Sept. 12 (Yonhap) -- The United States will send supersonic bombers to South Korea in the show of its defense commitment to its key ally, the U.S. Air Forces Korea (USFK) said Monday.

The USFK originally planned to have two B-1B Lancers to fly over the skies of South Korea at around 10:00 a.m. on Monday, flanked by South Korean F-15K and one U.S. F-16 fighter jets. But the scheduled flight was delayed to Tuesday due to unfavorable weather conditions, according to the USFK.

"Due to inclement weather conditions, the engagement at Osan Air Base scheduled for today has been postponed," USFK spokesman Christopher Bush said in a statement at an air base in Pyeongtaek, 70 kilometers south of Seoul.

The USFK said the scheduled flight of the bombers will take place Tuesday morning over the U.S. air base.

But the delay drew concerns and criticisms from some South Korean experts on North Korean issues.

"Guam is now under the influence of a typhoon. But it doesn't make sense for a U.S. strategic bomber to not take off due to cross winds. If the U.S. locates its bombers in South Korea, it will help deter threats from the North," Moon Keun-sik, an analyst at the Korea Defense and Security Forum, said.

Shin Jong-woo, a fellow of the Korea Defense and Security Forum (KODEF), urged the U.S. utilize all possible measures to pressure the North to give up its nuclear programs.

"At this critical juncture, the U.S. should not give an impression that it is rethinking its tactics," Shin said.

Experts say Seoul badly needs to build its own strategic nuclear armament if U.S. fighters and bombers are affected by weather conditions.

This undated file photo shows the B-1B supersonic bomber scheduled to fly over the skies of South Korea this week in a show of power amid North Korea's growing threats. (Yonhap)

In recent years, Pyongyang has escalated its saber-rattling. On Friday, it detonated its fifth nuclear device in the face of strong protest from the international community to halt its weapons of mass destruction programs.

The U.S. has in the past taken a series of military counteractions following major provocations by the North.

On Jan. 10, four days after the North conducted its fourth nuclear test, the U.S. sent a B-52 Stratofortress strategic bomber to the skies above Osan air base as a show of force. The bomber can be armed with nuclear missiles and "bunker buster" bombs that are capable of destroying the North's hardened underground facilities.

"These provocative actions destabilize the Korean Peninsula and (the Indo-Asia-Pacific) region. The Alliance is taking steps each and every day to defend the Republic of Korea and we are always maintaining a high state of readiness," the spokesman said.

In August, the U.S. Air Force forward deployed the B-1B bomber in the U.S. Pacific Command's Andersen Air Force Base on Guam partly to better counter the North's nuclear and missile threats.

The B-1B, which first went into operation with the U.S. Air Force in the 1980s, is capable of reaching speeds of up to Mach 1.25, or 1,335 kph, at very low altitude. It can carry nuclear weapons, as well as conventional guided bombs, such as the GBU-31, the GBU-38 and the GBU-54.

kyongae.choi@yna.co.kr
(END)

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