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B-2 flights to Korea intended to make a point

Mar. 29, 2013 - 02:25PM   |  
North Korean army officers punch the air March 29 as they chant slogans during a rally at Kim Il Sung Square in downtown Pyongyang, North Korea. Tens of thousands of North Koreans turned out for the mass rally in support of leader Kim Jong Un's call to arms.
North Korean army officers punch the air March 29 as they chant slogans during a rally at Kim Il Sung Square in downtown Pyongyang, North Korea. Tens of thousands of North Koreans turned out for the mass rally in support of leader Kim Jong Un's call to arms. (Jon Chol Jin / AP)
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Air Force says B-2 mission cost $2.1 million

WASHINGTON — The Air Force says it cost $2.1 million to send two nuclear-capable B-2 bombers on a training exercise over South Korea that was widely viewed as a show of force in response to weeks of threats from North Korea.
The service's Global Strike Command said Friday in a statement that the total flight time for the B-2s was 75 hours. The aircraft made the more than 6,500-mile round trip from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri to a South Korean island range on Thursday.
North Korea has threatened nuclear strikes on Washington and Seoul.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the decision to send the B-2s for drills with South Korea was part of normal military exercises with a close ally and not intended to provoke a reaction from North Korea. — AP

The recent flight of two B-2 bombers to South Korea was meant to let North Korea know the U.S. will respond if it or South Korea is attacked, according to an expert.

“This is important for two reasons: The north only respects one thing — strength and power,” said retired Army Col. David Maxwell. “It is important to demonstrate that strength and will. Second, the north will not attack in the face of strength and readiness.”

For 60 years, North Korea's strategy has been to drive a wedge between the U.S. and South Korea, said Maxwell, associate director of the Center for Peace and Security Studies at Georgetown University.

“Ironically the stronger we are the less there is a chance of miscalculation by the regime,” Maxwell said in an email. “If we show daylight in the alliance they will try to exploit that and then we are going to have trouble.”

Use of the stealthy B-2 bombers added something of an exclamation point to the training mission, which had already included older but also nuclear-capable B-52 bombers. Bombers from the 509th Bomb Wing flew more than 13,000 miles to South Korea and back from Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., in one continuous mission, a news release from U.S. Forces Korea said. The mission included dropping dummy munitions on a South Korean island range, the release stated, although the Pentagon later said it was unclear whether any of the B-2 flights flew over South Korea.

The joint drills are likely to heighten the already escalating tensions between the U.S. and North Korea that have played out in recent weeks, including Pyongyang's threat to carry out nuclear strikes on Washington and Seoul. North Korea has ramped up its rhetoric in response to the recent U.S. military exercises and also the U.N. sanctions over North Korea's nuclear test last month.

The U.S. has to take “every provocative, bellicose word and action” by North Korea's young leader very seriously because the regime believes it is to its advantage to cause trouble, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said at a March 28 news conference, attended with Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

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Hagel said the U.S. has to plan for worst-case scenarios, such as a missile attack from North Korea. The U.S. is adding more interceptors to its missile defense system, which is based in Alaska at an estimated cost of $1 billion.

“These are decision-making processes that evolve based on threats, potential threats,” he said. “You only need to be wrong once. And I don't know what president or what chairman or what secretary of defense wants to be wrong once when it comes to nuclear threats.”

Asked about the cost of sending the B-2 bombers all the way from Missouri to South Korea for a show of force, Dempsey said the military plans for a certain number of exercises each year involving the B-2 and B-52 bombers.

Even if it wasn't in the budget, he said, “in light of what's happened in North Korea and the provocation and the necessity of assuring our allies that we're there with them, we would have found a way to do this.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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