U.S. strategic bombers on Thursday practiced bombing maneuvers above South Korea as part of military efforts to show North Korea new attacks will not be tolerated, the New York Times reported.
The U.S. military command in Seoul said the purpose of the flyover of the two B-2 "Spirit" stealth aircraft was to display the United States' commitment to supplying "extended deterrence to our allies in the Asia-Pacific region" and to demonstrate its capacity to "conduct long range, precision strikes quickly and at will." The practice sortie was part of the annual bilateral Foal Eagle military exercise.
The stealth jets flew a 6,500 mile round trip from an Air Force base in Missouri to release deactivated ordnance on an island bombing practice site in waters near South Korea's west coast.
The United States in recent days has also sent B-52 nuclear-capable bombers over South Korea in the face of stepped-up North Korean rhetoric, including threats of pre-emptive nuclear strikes on South Korea and the United States.
In a Thursday telephone conversation with Seoul's defense chief, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel reiterated Washington's resolve to provide "extended deterrence" to South Korea that encompasses "missile defense capabilities" and the "nuclear umbrella," according to a release from Seoul.
The defense leaders resolved to draft "customized" response scenarios for addressing a variety of dangers that could come from the North's unconventional arsenal.
The B-2 bomber can be loaded with nuclear and conventional bombs, has radar-evading capabilities and can skirt air defenses. "It is the strategic weapon most feared by North Korea," an anonymous high-ranking defense official told the Yonhap News Agency.
"We have to take seriously every provocative, bellicose word and action that this new young leader has taken so far," Reuters quoted Hagel as saying on Thursday in reference to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Seoul on Wednesday verified that the North had severed all modes of military contact, the Xinhua News Agency reported. "North Korea notified us of cutting the North-South military communications hot line," the South Korean Unification Ministry announced.
The Stalinist state has previously cut off military communication, Reuters reported.
North Korea is upset after being sanctioned again by the U.N. Security Council over the nation's February nuclear test. Short of actually carrying out new attacks, there is little else Pyongyang can do to signal its displeasure, according to University of North Korean Studies professor Yang Moo-jin.
"What else can they do? Actually start a war?," he said. "Not answering the phone and saying the [Korean War] armistice is not valid any more, that's what they can do and they've done this before."