WASHINGTON — The Pentagon decided to divert B-52 bombers from participating in the latest Korean war game exercises, in part as a gesture of goodwill to North Korea in advance of a planned summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Pentagon officials said Monday.
However, that decision not to include the B-52s in the Max Thunder exercise was made some time ago and not in direct response to Pyongyang’s threat to cancel the summit, planned for June in Singapore, made last week because of what it said were “provocative military disturbances with South Korea,” Pentagon officials said.
“Republic of Korea (ROK) and U.S. military forces are currently engaged in the recurring, annual ROK-U.S. spring exercises, to include exercises Foal Eagle 2018 and Max Thunder 2018,” said Col. Rob Manning, a Pentagon spokesperson.
“These defensive exercises are part of the ROK-U.S. Alliance’s routine, annual training program to maintain a foundation of military readiness,” he said. “The purpose of the training is to enhance the ROK-U.S. Alliance’s ability to defend the ROK and enhance interoperability and readiness. While we will not discuss specifics, the defensive nature of these combined exercises has been clear for many decades and has not changed.”
The exercises run from May 14 through May 25.
Pentagon officials said the change in the flight path was made jointly by South Korea, Japan and the U.S. The B-52 instead avoided all Korean airspace and flew roundtrip from their base in Guam.
Max Thunder is primarily an air war game. Last year roughly 1,000 U.S. military personnel from all four service branches and about 500 Republic of Korea troops took part in the exercise designed to improve interoperability between South Korean and U.S. forces. Japan was part of the decision since some U.S. planes in the exercise are based in Japan.
“The United States must carefully contemplate the fate of the planned North Korea-U.S. summit amid the provocative military ruckus that it’s causing with South Korean authorities,” North Korea’s official news agency posted in a government statement last Wednesday. “We’ll keenly monitor how the United States and South Korean authorities will react.”
Earlier this year, the U.S. and South Korea delayed two of its biggest annual military exercises — Foal Eagle and Key Resolve — until April to avoid conflicting with the 2018 Olympics and Paralympics, held in South Korea during the first quarter of the year.
Foal Eagle is a field exercise while Key Resolve is a computer-simulated desktop exercise. Both Key Resolve and Foal Eagle have involved up to 300,000 troops from the U.S. and South Korea in past years, according to the Pentagon.
North Korea did not denounce those exercises, as it has in the past.
At that time, the Pentagon said it uses a formula to explain the presence of certain high-profile parts of the U.S. arsenal, such as an aircraft carrier or B-52s, that are usually part of the drills. The Pentagon said the absence of an extra bomber wing or flotilla is the result of already ingrained rotational scheduling and not related to the war games.
“In general many things are taken into account when planning exercises; deployment cycles, maintenance, and exercise objectives are the main driving factors in determining exercise participation,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher Logan told TMN at the time. “As the exercise scenarios in question are classified it would be inappropriate to discuss our planning factors in greater detail.”