Two F-22 fighter jets now in South Korea could allow the U.S. to support a limited counterattack if North Korea follows through on its threats of recent weeks, according to military analysts.
In 2010, South Korea responded to artillery fire from the North with its own shelling, said Bruce Bennett, a military analyst at RAND Corp., a think tank. The F-22s, the world's most advanced warplanes, could be used to destroy artillery command and control facilities deeper inside North Korea, Bennett said.
"The aircraft could reach those targets pretty securely," Bennett said. "And they could deal with it promptly. Only sending a couple says we're not starting a major war."
Victor Cha, a Korea expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the robust U.S. military response "shows that the U.S. is not simply writing off bluster as meaningless and harmless."
Bennett said the moves and responses are "kind of like the Cuban Missile Crisis. ... What does it take to cap an escalating series of events?"
That crisis, which nearly sparked a nuclear confrontation, was a 1960s showdown over Russian plans to place nuclear missiles in Cuba.
Last week, two B-2 stealth bombers took part in joint exercises with the South Korean military. The planes dropped dud bombs on a South Korean range and returned home. The mission came after threats from North Korea to attack U.S. soil with missiles, a capability the North likely does not yet possess.
The deployment of F-22s from Japan to South Korea had been planned for some time, said Army Lt. Col. Catherine Wilkinson, a Pentagon spokeswoman. It is the fourth time they have been sent there.
"The F-22 Raptors are one of many alliance capabilities available for the defense of the Republic of Korea," Wilkinson said.
The U.S. Navy also has a ship with sophisticated radar deployed in the region, according to a Defense official who was not authorized to speak on the record. The official pointed out that it routinely operates there and has not yet been assigned to tasks specifically concerning North Korea.
South Korean tanks cross a river over a temporary bridge during a military drill near the border with North Korea on Monday. Meanwhile, the Pentagon deployed two F-22s from Japan to South Korea as a sign it takes the North's threats seriously.
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