Our B-52 Bombers on the Korean Peninsula: ‘Nuclear-Capable’ or ‘Nuclear-Armed’? (Update)
The U.S. Navy says:
“On any given day, in your Navy, our team of more than 600,000 professional Sailors and civilians are working together around the globe to perform our mission: deter aggression and, if deterrence fails, win our Nation’s wars.”
Putting teeth into those words, the U.S. and Republic of Korea’s navies and other Services are participating in exercise Foal Eagle, “the alliance’s largest military exercise of the year, which runs from March 1 to April 30, and involves as many as 200,000 South Korean troops and approximately 11,000 U.S. forces, most of whom will travel to the peninsula specifically for the exercise,” according to the Stars and Stripes.
Alarmed by North Korea’s recent belligerence and nuclear-tipped saber rattling, politicians and pundits alike have been painting all kinds of doomsday scenarios reminiscent of the Cold War.
The headlines are full of measures the United States is taking to thwart any North Korean attack.
Some are long-term measures, such as Secretary Chuck Hagel’s announcement last Friday that the military will increase the number of ground-based ballistic missile interceptors in California and Alaska to 44 from 30, at a cost of $1 billion.
Also last week, at a press briefing, Admiral James Winnefeld, Vice Chairman, Joint Chiefs Of Staff, said, “And — and the fact of the matter is that deterrence exists in two forms. One is denying an adversary’s objectives. The other is imposing costs if they — if deterrence fails. And I think the national security adviser made it very clear in his speech on Monday that we not only intend to put the mechanics in place to deny any potential North Korean objective to launch a missile to the United States, but also to impose costs upon them if they do.” The admiral added, “And we believe that this young lad ought to be deterred by that. And if he’s not, we’ll be ready.”
Some are shorter-range.
Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter mentioned an ongoing annual U.S.-South Korean military exercise, Key Resolve, and Foal Eagle, a combined and joint field training exercise that runs across the Korean Peninsula from March 1 to April 30, to “demonstrate the U.S. commitment to the alliance and ensure the readiness of both of our forces to defend the Republic of Korea and deepen interoperability with U.S. and South Korean forces.”
He added. “In particular, the United States remains committed to extended deterrence offered by the U.S. nuclear umbrella, and to ensuring that all capabilities remain available to the alliance.”
Talking about such a “nuclear umbrella,” our B-52 strategic bombers have been taking part recently in “flight training” on the Korean Peninsula.
Those B-52s would certainly deliver a devastating response to North Korea should the “young lad” not be deterred by our country’s preparations.
But that is just this author’s opinion.
Just as it may have been the Stars and Stripes’ opinion when its March 20 print editions stated that “nuclear-armed B-52s are taking part in the current U.S.-South Korea military exercises.”
In a correction, the newspaper, explains, “As the report correctly explains, the B-52s are capable of carrying nuclear weapons, but the Defense Department has not stated that they are actually carrying nuclear arms.”
The Stripes notes:
The Pentagon says nuclear-capable B-52 bombers are taking part in joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises this month, a measure apparently aimed at dissuading North Korea from conducting future provocations.
B-52 bombers based at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam flew a mission over South Korea on March 8 as part of the Foal Eagle exercise, a Department of Defense statement said Monday.
Hours earlier in Seoul, Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter told reporters a B-52 flight was scheduled for Tuesday. He offered no details but described the flight as “routine.”
Pentagon press secretary George Little on Monday called the B-52 flight “a stepped-up training effort” to demonstrate U.S. resolve and promote peace on the peninsula.
“It’s not any secret that we are in the midst of sending a very strong signal that we have a firm commitment to the alliance with our South Korean allies,” he said.
The B-52 Stratofortress can perform missions that included carrying nuclear weapons and precision-guided missiles.
7th Air Force did not immediately comment on the B-52 flights. A spokesman for the Ministry of National Defense would not comment on details about the strategic bomber’s involvement in the exercises, but called it an “important means for keeping peace on the Korean peninsula in the face of North Korea’s nuclear threat.”
There is and there isn’t a difference between “nuclear capable” and “nuclear armed” — it all depends on what message the Pentagon wants to send.
Let us hope that the “young lad” in North Korea doesn’t have to find out.
Image: U.S. Air Force