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F-35B fighters included in British aircraft carrier visiting South Korea

Eighteen F-35B stealth fighter jets of the U.S. Marine Corps are being deployed with a British aircraft carrier visiting South Korea in August. U.S. Air Force Photo by Staff Sgt. Corey Hook
Eighteen F-35B stealth fighter jets of the U.S. Marine Corps are being deployed with a British aircraft carrier visiting South Korea in August. U.S. Air Force Photo by Staff Sgt. Corey Hook

June 8 (UPI) -- Stealth fighter jets of the U.S. Marine Corps will be on board Britain's HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier when it makes a port call at Busan, South Korea, in August -- the same month U.S.-South Korea joint exercises are expected to take place.

Britain's Ministry of Defense said the aircraft carrier is to visit South Korea with 18 F-35B stealth fighter jets. Ten of the jets are under the U.S. Marine Fighter Attack Squadron VMFA-211. The No. 617 Squadron of Britain's Royal Air Force operates the remaining jets, Radio Free Asia's Korean service reported.

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"The Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers are international by design and the fact they can operate a mixed [U.S.-British] air group is a strategic advantage, offering choice and flexibility to both nations," the ministry said.

The U.S. Department has said it has nothing specific on the carrier's visit to South Korea in August, when Seoul and Washington are expected to hold military exercises, according to RFA.

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Bruce Bennett, a senior defense researcher at the RAND Corporation, told the news service the F-35B stealth fighters were deployed during large-scale exercises in Korea in 2017.

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It is likely the F-35B jets are to be deployed in drills with the 24 F-35s already in Korea, Bennett said, according to the report.

The United States and South Korea scaled back military exercises during the Trump administration, as Washington sought to improve ties with Pyongyang. North Korea has demanded an end to the exercises and has claimed they are "drills for an invasion."

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During a U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on May 18, Gen. Paul LaCamera, who will lead the United Nations Command and U.S. Forces Korea, said that he is aware of the "risk" that live training could become a "potential bargaining chip."

"My job will be to identify that risk and then figure out a way to reduce it," LaCamera said.

Members of South Korean President Moon Jae-in's Cabinet have expressed mixed reactions to large-scale exercises.

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South Korean Unification Minister Lee In-young said Sunday on a news program on network KBS that "combined exercises should never work in a way that causes or further escalates tensions on the Korean Peninsula."

Lee called for "maximum flexibility," and requested the North to reciprocate, according to Yonhap.

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