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US, South Korea hold first combined F-35 drills

The United States and South Korean air forces conducted joint air drills featuring F-35A stealth fighters for the first time.The South Korean Air Force said that the two countries held the exercise “to improve capabilities in conducting combined operations through live environment training” and boost collaboration between the stealth fighters.

According to a press release from the South Korean Air Force, the allies staged four-day joint exercises on Monday with more than 30 fighter jets from the two sides in order to boost combined operational capability, while increasing interoperability of the F-35A ― a fifth-generation aircraft that is in service in both countries.

The exercises involved various maneuvers, including strike package and defensive counter-air operations as well as airborne alert interdiction (XINT), according to the South Korean Air Force.The U.S. Air Force said in a release that combined training demonstrates its commitment to the defense of South Korea and is the foundation of maintaining a robust defense posture.Along with the respective F-35As, the F-15K, KF-16 and FA-50 from the South Korean Air Force and the F-16 from the U.S. side participated in the drills. Six U.S. F-35As from the 365th Fighter Squadron at Eielson Air Force Base arrived here last week to join the drills in the first public deployment of the U.S. stealth wαrplanes here since late 2017.

Lt. Col. Ryan Worrell, a U.S. F-35A pilot from Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, also said, “Our primary objective with training is to safely execute tactics between us and ROKAF F-35s to show our ironclad alliance.”

Defense Ministry deputy spokesperson Col. Moon Hong-sik said, “It is expected that cooperation will be made through various methods in order to enhance the capability to carry out joint operations between South Korea and the U.S. and to strengthen these aspects of the combined defense posture.”The air drills came as Pyongyang has been inflaming tensions on the Korean Peninsula amid expectations that its seventh nuclear test is imminent. In addition, the North Korean military conducted artillery drills for the second straight day, Sunday and Monday, a move regarded as signaling its displeasure with the arrival of the U.S. F-35s.