-- Days after North Korea launched a missile over the Japanese island of Hokkaido, U.S. fighter jets and bombers conducted a show of force alongside Japanese and South Korean allies, according to the U.S. military.
U.S. Marine Corps F-35B fighter jets based in Japan joined Air Force B-1B bombers from Guam on Wednesday for the first time, flying over parts of South Korea and practicing attack capabilities with South Korean aircraft.
The U.S. and South Korean planes released live weapons at the Pilsung training area, a bombing range in South Korea. The F-35 is the newest and most advanced aircraft in the U.S. military.
The 10-hour mission was in direct response to North Korea's test of an intermediate-range ballistic missile Monday "amid rising tension over North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile development programs," U.S. Pacific Command said in a statement today.
The United States assessed that the missile was a KN-17, what North Korea calls a Hwasong 12.
It was the 13th ballistic missile test North Korea has conducted this year and the first time one of its missiles flew over one of Japan's four major islands since 2009.
"North Korea's actions are a threat to our allies, partners and homeland, and their destabilizing actions will be met accordingly," Gen. Terrence J. O'Shaughnessy, the commander of U.S. Pacific Air Forces, said in a statement. "This complex mission clearly demonstrates our solidarity with our allies and underscores the broadening cooperation to defend against this common regional threat. Our forward-deployed force will be the first to the fight, ready to deliver a lethal response at a moment's notice if our nation calls."
Ulchi Freedom Guardian, an annual 10-day exercise by U.S. and South Korean forces to enhance readiness on the Korean Peninsula, concludes today. Over 17,000 U.S. troops participated in this year's exercise.
The motto of the more than 28,000 U.S. forces in South Korea is "Fight tonight," signaling their mission to combat North Korean aggression at a moment's notice.
But in Washington, top U.S. officials have reiterated that the United States is seeking a diplomatic approach to North Korea.
President Trump tweeted Wednesday that talking "is not the answer" to the North Korean threat. But Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Trump's press secretary Sarah Sanders were quick not to close the door on negotiation.
Mattis told reporters before a meeting with the South Korean defense minister that the United States is "never out of diplomatic solutions," and Sanders massaged the president's message, saying all options remain on the table.