JAPANESE and US warplanes have carried out more exercises over the East China Sea as South Korea braces for a possible further missile test by North Korea on its founding anniversary.
The region has been on high alert since Pyongyang conducted its sixth and largest nuclear test last weekend and military activity has intensified with a series of manoeuvres taking place throughout the week.
Japan’s Air Self Defence Force (ASDF) said the latest exercises involved two Japanese F-15 fighter jets and two US Air Force B-1B Lancer bombers flying from Andersen Air Force Base on Guam.
Japanese F-15 fighter jets also conducted an air exercise with US B1-B bombers and F-35 stealth fighters in skies south of the Korean peninsula on August 31, two days after North Korea launched a ballistic missile over northern Japan.
Tokyo and Washington have agreed to increase their military co-operation in an attempt to counter the threat from North Korea.
North Korea is under mounting international pressure over its missile and military nuclear programs and has been subjected to an array of United Nations sanctions.
But Pyongyang says it will not give up on its nuclear deterrence unless Washington ends its hostile policy toward the country and dissolves the US-led UN command in South Korea. Thousands of US soldiers are stationed in South Korea and Japan.
The latest exercises were carried against a backdrop of growing fears that North Korea might be plotting a provocative missile launch or even another nuclear test as its marks its anniversary with a national holiday.
The Day of the Foundation of the Republic is one of the most important festivals in the rogue state’s calendar – as well as a regular opportunity for major tests.
Harry Kazianis of the Centre for the National Interest thinktank said: “I think another ICBM test to be honest with you could come on September 9. The North Koreans love to put on a big show for their big national holiday.
“They’re going to want to get the most attention they can.”China has also been carrying out explosive military drills on North Korea’s doorstep.
China’s air force carried out exercises near the Korean peninsula, practising to defend against a “surprise attack” – presumably from their neighbours.
State-run media said the drills took place near the Bohai Sea, the innermost gulf of the Yellow Sea which separates China from the Korean peninsula.