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U.S. sends F-35 stealth fighters to South Korea for first time in 5 years

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U.S. sends F-35 stealth fighters to South Korea for first time in 5 years
An F-35A Lightning II combat aircraft is seen during the deployment in South Korea on Tuesday. The U.S. Air Force sent six F-35 stealth fighters to South Korea from Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska on Tuesday for a ten-day joint training exercise as tensions remain high on the Korean Peninsula. Photo by Akeem K. Campbell/U.S. Air Force

SEOUL, July 5 (UPI) -- The United States Air Force has deployed six F-35A stealth fighter jets to South Korea to conduct joint drills for the first time in five years, both countries said Tuesday in a new show of military might on the increasingly tense Korean Peninsula.

The American jets arrived on Tuesday from Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska, U.S. Forces Korea said in a statement. They will operate on a 10-day joint combined training mission over South Korea and surrounding waters off the coast.

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"The familiarization and routine training flights will enhance the interoperability of the two Air Forces to perform and operate on and around the Korean Peninsula," U.S. Forces Korea said.

South Korea will fly a variety of aircraft on the training mission, including its own F-35A jets, U.S. Forces Korea added. Seoul has purchased 40 of the Lockheed Martin-manufactured fifth-generation jets and has plans to buy 20 more over the next several years.

"This deployment is to demonstrate the strong deterrence and combined defense posture of the South Korea-U.S. alliance, while improving interoperability between the South Korean and U.S. Air Forces," Seoul's defense ministry said in a text message to reporters.

The F-35 Lightning II fighter jet made its first flight in 2006 and entered U.S. military service in 2015. File Photo by Staff Sgt. Kate Thornton/U.S. Air Force
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The arrival of the F-35A fighters marks the first known deployment of the jets to the Korean Peninsula for exercises since December 2017, at the height of nuclear tensions with North Korea.

Seoul and Washington had scaled back their joint drills in recent years during a period of engagement with Pyongyang under the administrations of U.S. President Donald Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

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North Korea has long condemned the exercises as rehearsals for an invasion, while leader Kim Jong Un last year slammed the South's "over-the-top" modernization of its military, singling out the F-35A jets.

Recently inaugurated South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol has publicly taken a harder line against North Korea, however, and boosted defense ties with the United States.

At a Seoul summit in May, Yoon and U.S. President Joe Biden agreed to ramp up joint military exercises while Washington said it would "deploy strategic U.S. military assets in a timely and coordinated manner as necessary."

RELATED South Korean unification minister warns of 'much sterner' response to North

North Korea has conducted at least 18 weapons tests so far in 2022, including its first intercontinental ballistic missile launches in five years, and appears to be poised to make its seventh nuclear detonation.

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The United States and South Korea have responded swiftly in recent weeks to provocations by Pyongyang, firing missiles and sending up jets in attack formation in coordinated shows of strength.

NATO leaders gather in Madrid

U.S. President Joe Biden gestures during a news conference on the final day of a NATO summit in Madrid on June 30, 2022. Photo by Paul Hanna/UPI | License Photo

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