December 15, 2018
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US steps up air deployment for exercise after North Korea missile launch

Seoul, Dec 3 (efe-epa).- The United States has prepared for a huge air deployment - with the arrival Sunday of new planes in South Korea - for a joint flying exercise.

The fighter planes will take part in the joint drill on Monday in what would be a show of strength following North Korea's missile test earlier this week.

The planes will take part in the "Vigilant ace" exercise with the South Korean air force from Dec. 4 to Dec. 8.

The drill will feature more than 230 planes from the two countries, including 12 US stealth fighters (six F-22 and six F-35) and six EA-18G Growler electronic warfare aircraft.

Although the exercises had been planned ahead of North Korea's latest missile test on Nov. 29, it is unusual for the Pentagon to make a deployment of this scale for Vigilant ace.

South Korea is expected to deploy F-15, KF-16 and F-5 fighter planes, according to South Korea's Yonhap agency Sunday.

This deployment falls under the agreement in October between Seoul and Washington to increase rotational deployment of strategic assets of the US in the Korean peninsula.

South Korea and the US seek to pressurize North Korea to return to the negotiating table to abandon its nuclear program.

The North Korean foreign ministry in a statement published by state-owned KCNA agency, strongly condemned the drills, which the Kim Jong-un regime sees as rehearsals to invade its territory.

"The drill would be unprecedented in its size and nature of simulating actual combat situation as well as in the number of the U.S. major strategic assets including F-22 Raptor and F-35 stealth fighters to be involved," read the statement.

"The (US President Donald) Trump team is begging for nuclear war by staging an extremely dangerous nuclear gamble on the Korean peninsula," it added.

The Vigilant ace exercise this year comes after Pyongyang launched Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile - its most sophisticated missile to date - on Wednesday.

This year, constant weapons tests by North Korea, combined with US President Donald Trump's war rhetoric, have increased tensions in the peninsula to unprecedented levels since the end of the Korean War (1950-53).

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