The flight training session of the annual South Korea-US air exercise is set to end Thursday, a military source said, raising hopes for the resumption of high-level inter-Korean dialogue suspended by Pyongyang in protest at what it called an invasion rehearsal.
The two-week Max Thunder exercise is to officially end on Friday, but the air training segment will be finished a day earlier, with an evaluation session involving the allies' air force personnel scheduled for the last day of the exercise, the official said.
"(On Friday), South Korean and US pilots will hold an 'out-briefing' session without any flight training," the source said, declining to be named.
Launched in 2009, this year's exercise began May 11, involving 100 aircraft, including eight F-22 radar-evading fighter jets, as well as F-15Ks and F-16s. It is hosted by South Korea's Air Force Operations Command and the US 7th Air Force.
Last week, Pyongyang lambasted the drills as a rehearsal for invasion and a provocation amid thawing inter-Korean ties, and unilaterally suspended the high-level cross-border talks scheduled for May 16.
The F-22 stealth aircraft that joined the Max Thunder drills are expected to return to Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, soon. The North Korean leadership has apparently reacted sensitively to the deployment of the F-22 fighters, which are capable of avoiding radar detection and striking key military installations in the North.
In the exercise, the US B-52 strategic bomber was also expected to participate. But it did not fly over the peninsula after Pyongyang protested angrily.
Seoul appears hopeful that the end of the air drills could pave the way for the resumption of cross-border talks. South Korean President Moon Jae-in said during his Washington summit with US President Donald Trump on Tuesday that the inter-Korean talks could resume after the end of the exercise.
Pyongyang's vehement opposition to the air drills has raised concerns that it could call for a halt to any allied exercises, including the summertime Ulchi Freedom Guardian, to test Washington's will to ensure its regime security in return for denuclearization. (Yonhap)