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U.S., South Korea practicing joint air force drills

The exercises are ongoing as the United States vowed Thursday to defend ally Japan against Chinese incursions.
By Elizabeth Shim Contact the Author   |   Jan. 28, 2016 at 1:25 PM
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SEOUL, Jan. 28 (UPI) -- The United States and South Korea are conducting a joint drill involving fighter pilots from both air forces in the wake of North Korea's nuclear test.

The exercises are ongoing as the United States vowed Thursday to defend another ally, Japan, should a chain of disputed islands claimed by Tokyo and Beijing fall under attack – in a statement that directly warned China against provocations.

The joint U.S.-South Korea exercise dubbed "Buddy Wing 16-1" began Tuesday and is expected to end Friday, Yonhap reported.

Four F-16CM fighter jets from the 51st Fighter Wing of the U.S. Air Force and 14 South Korean KF-16 fighter aircraft from the 20th Fighter Wing are involved.

Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, said the Buddy Wing program plays an "important role in maintaining interoperability" between the two countries.

South Korea Air Force told news service Newsis that the training involves the sharing of information and tactics related to air force weapon systems, and both sides coordinated on air-to-air combat training as well as "high-intensity combat training."

Both militaries have been placed on highest alert since North Korea's fourth nuclear test on Jan. 6, and Washington, Tokyo and Seoul are all monitoring the latest developments in North Korea that could indicate Pyongyang is preparing for a missile launch.

The exercises are to go on as the U.S. naval presence in Japan continues to monitor North Korea developments.

Washington's commitment to Japan's defense stands firm, the commander of the U.S. Pacific Command said Wednesday, and the pledge extends to the disputed Senkaku Islands, also known as the Diaoyu Islands in China and Taiwan.

"We will clearly defend [the Senkakus] if they are attacked by China," said Adm. Harry Harris.

While the United States has stated it does not take sides in sovereignty claims, President Barack Obama and past leaders have stated the United States is obliged to defend Japan if the Senkakus are attacked, Kyodo News reported.

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