The US Air Force's F-35B stealth fighter will take part in the ongoing Foal Eagle joint exercise with South Korea to hone its precision strike capabilities, military officials familiar with the matter said Thursday.
The F-35B Lightening II fighter is expected to carry out ground attack maneuvers during the two-month-long exercise between Seoul and Washington, the officials told Yonhap News Agency asking not to be identified.
In this photo taken on Oct. 25, 2016, and provided by the US Department of Defense, a US Marine Corps' F-35B stealth fighter is about to land on the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp. (Yonhap)
"The addition of the F-35B is meant to deliver a strong message to the North that they could be used against the rogue state in case of a conflict breaking out on the Korean Peninsula," an official said.
The first F-35B squadron was deployed to Iwakuni, Japan, in January amid growing nuclear and missile threats posed by North Korea.
The F-35B -- which is capable of short takeoffs and vertical landings -- is regarded by the military as a strategic asset that can be employed to hit well defended key targets in North Korea.
The stealth fighter can reach speeds of up to Mach 1.6 and has a radar system that is capable of detecting a target up to 500 kilometers away.
On top of the Foal Eagle field exercise, the allies plan to kick off the Key Resolve command post exercise for two weeks starting March 13.
North Korea was quick to respond with typical fiery rhetoric, calling the annual military drills between Seoul and Washington a rehearsal for an invasion.
The North's military will "mercilessly" deter any nuclear aggression "with its treasured nuclear sword" and its reaction will be the toughest ever, according to a statement by the military carried by the Korean Central News Agency.
South Korea's military said it will "resolutely" deal with any provocations by the communist state.(Yonhap)