The United States and South Korea conducted joint air exercises over the Yellow Sea on Wednesday. Photo courtesy of South Korea Defense Ministry
SEOUL, Feb. 2 (UPI) -- North Korea warned of the "toughest reaction" to expanded joint United States-South Korea drills on Thursday, including the "most overwhelming nuclear force," according to state media.
"The DPRK will take the toughest reaction to any military attempt of the U.S., on the principle of 'nuke for nuke and an all-out confrontation for an all-out confrontation,'" an unnamed foreign ministry spokesperson said in a statement carried by Korean Central News Agency.
The Democratic People's Republic of Korea is the official name of North Korea.
The statement came on the heels of combined U.S.-South Korean air drills over the Yellow Sea on Wednesday, which included B-1B bombers and F-35B stealth fighters from the U.S. Air Force alongside the South's F-35A fighters.
The drills demonstrated the United States' "will and ability to provide strong and credible extended deterrence against North Korea's nuclear and missile threats," South Korea's defense ministry said in a statement Thursday.
Earlier this week, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin visited Seoul and vowed to expand joint military drills and to "strengthen extended deterrence," which includes a nuclear umbrella against North Korean threats.
Austin added there would be more frequent deployments of U.S. strategic assets such as advanced stealth jets and aircraft carriers to Korea.
North Korea said Thursday that the enhanced cooperation would turn the Korean Peninsula into "a more critical war zone."
"The DPRK has a clear counteraction strategy capable of coping with any short- and long-term scenarios attempted by the U.S. and its vassal forces, and will strongly control the present and future potential challenges with the most overwhelming nuclear force," the ministry spokesman said.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un recently called for "an exponential increase" of the country's nuclear arsenal. He also ordered the mass production of lower-yield tactical nuclear weapons, which are designed to be used on the battlefield.
Pyongyang conducted over 70 ballistic missile tests last year, a record number, and officials in Seoul and Washington have assessed that the North has completed preparations for a nuclear test.
North Korea will mark the 75th anniversary of the founding of its armed forces next Wednesday and experts are watching for a potential parade to show off missiles and other military hardware. Satellite imagery recently analyzed by website 38 North showed "extensive" preparations being made for a parade.