F-22 Raptor to Join Naval Drill in Korean Seas

Four state-of-the-art U.S. stealth fighters will join a massive combined air and naval exercise to be held by South Korea and the United States in the East Sea later this month in a show of the allies’ strong deterrence plans against North Korean provocations, South Korean and U.S. defense officials announced Tuesday.

The plan was made public after consultations between Defense Minister Kim Tae-young and his U.S. counterpart Robert Gates in Seoul. The two defense chiefs discussed a series of combined maritime and air readiness drills in waters around the peninsula in the coming months.

Gates arrived in Seoul late Monday to attend the “2 + 2” meeting that will include Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan and Defense Minister Kim Tae-young.

The exercise, “Invincible Spirit,” will be the largest in scale with the participation of 8,000 Army, Air, Navy and Marine forces from the South Korean and U.S. militaries. The drill will be held from July 25 to 28.

About 200 fighter jets, and naval aircraft and helicopters will fly training missions in and around Korea. In addition, approximately 20 warships, including the U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington, the South Korean Navy’s 14,000-ton Dokdo large-deck landing ship, and attack submarines will participate in the exercise.

The deployment of the F-22 Raptor, the world’s most advanced aircraft, will be symbolic in heralding the solid and broader alliance of the two governments against emerging regional threats, including a North Korean provocation, said Maj. Gen. John A. Macdonald, director of the ROK-U.S. Combined Forces Command’s operations bureau.

“The Raptor is the capability that we brought here to help in the defense of the Republic of Korea. It is part of the ROK-U.S. alliance,” Macdonald said.

“We will have four Raptors to participate in the exercise, and they will be involved in strike operations that will take place on ranges.”

This will be the first time that the “fifth-generation” radar-evading aircraft will participate in exercises with South Korea. The F-22, built by Lockheed Martin, is equipped with an active electronically scanned radar for cruise missile detection and is capable of evading advanced air defenses to bomb ballistic missile launch sites.

The single-seat fighter can fly at a maximum speed of Mach 1.8 and has an operational radius of 2,000 kilometers. Its weapons systems include AIM-9 Sidewinders and Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM).

Macdonald added allied troops will be engaged in “network defense” to ensure they are secure in adverse conditions.

“The exercise will sharpen our military readiness by improving interoperability and the combined operational capability of the ROK-U.S. combined forces, while demonstrating the resolve and strength of the alliance,” Gen. Han Min-koo, chairman of the ROK Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a statement. “We stand fully prepared to respond militarily to any further North Korean provocation.”

The exercise was originally scheduled to be held in the West Sea, but defense authorities in Seoul and Washington changed the venue apparently after strong protests from China.

The USS George Washington carries nearly 5,000 crew and flight staff, including 400-plus officers and more than 4,000 enlisted sailors.

The 97,000-ton vessel carries more than 65 aircraft, including F/A 18 Hornets, F/A 18 E/F Super Hornets, EA6B Prowlers, E2C Hawkeyes, C-2 Greyhounds and SH-60 Seahawk helicopters.

Joining the East Sea exercise will be the USS McCampbell, USS John S. McCain and USS Lassen.

Earlier this month, the U.N. Security Council issued a statement that expressed “deep concern” over the sinking of the frigate Cheonan in the West Sea in March, but did not identify who was responsible for sinking the ship.

China, North Korea’s most important ally, was reportedly the main force behind the watering down of the Security Council resolution. It is also very uneasy about the ROK-U.S. joint exercise involving a U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.


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