The U.S. military is making no secret about a training flight by a pair of nuclear-capable B-2 stealth bombers from a base in the American Midwest to the Korean Peninsula what's being described as an "extended deterrence mission."
The flight of the two radar-evading bombers "demonstrates the United States' ability to conduct long range, precision strikes quickly and at will," the United States Forces Korea said in a press release Thursday.
The strategic bombers belonging to the 509th Bomb Wing took off Thursday from a base at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri and flew "more than 6,500 miles to the Korean Peninsula, dropping inert munitions on the Jik Do Range [in South Korea], and returning to the continental U.S. in a single, continuous mission," USFK said.
It said the United States is "steadfast in its alliance commitment that the defense of the Republic of Korea, to deterring aggression, and to ensuring peace and stability in the region."
The B-2 bomber is a vital element in that deterrence, according to the USFK release.
The Associated Press says it's "unclear whether America's stealth bombers were used in past annual drills with South Korea, but this is the first time the military has announced their use."
Drawing attention to the stealthy (and normally quiet) training mission is clearly meant as a signal to North Korea. It comes amid ongoing joint exercises between the U.S. and ally South Korea, and as Pyongyang has stepped up rhetoric warning of a "simmering nuclear war" on the peninsula.
According to The New York Times, North Korea is particularly sensitive about U.S. bombers in the region:
"It keeps most of its key military installations underground and its war cries typically reach a frenetic pitch when American bombers fly over South Korea during military exercises. The resulting fear and anti-American sentiment is used by the regime to make its people rally behind Pyongyang's 'military-first' leadership."