B-52 Squadron Commander Talks up Joint Training During Bomber’s Rare Stop in South Korea

Oct. 25, 2023

Oct. 19—CHEONGJU, South Korea — Maintaining the U.S.- South Korea military alliance cannot be achieved unless troops are routinely training with their counterparts, said the squadron commander of an American bomber that made a rare landing on the Korean Peninsula this week.

Air Force Lt. Col. Vanessa Wilcox, commander of the 96th Bomb Squadron out of Barksdale Air Force Base, La., spoke to reporters at Cheongju International Airport, about 60 miles south of Seoul, on Thursday, two days after the B-52H Stratofortress touched down there.

The American bomber — the first to land on the peninsula in at least 30 years — flew to South Korea to perform flyovers during Seoul's Aerospace and Defense Exhibition, a biennial convention hosted by the Ministry of National Defense.

The B-52H flew alongside at least four South Korean F-35A Lightning II stealth fighters during one of the two flyovers, which Wilcox described as a "momentous occasion."

"The opportunity to work and integrate with our [South Korean] partners cannot [be] possibly achieved unless being here on the ground," she said. "It really provides a totally different opportunity that we would not have."

Wilcox declined to say if there were nuclear or conventional weapons aboard the aircraft but confirmed the bomber is capable of carrying nuclear weapons. She also declined to say where the bomber came from but said it flew 19 hours from the United States without stopping.

Capt. Sabin Park, a B-52 pilot for the squadron, told reporters it was "amazing to see that cooperation" between the two air forces. Park said he was part of a crew overseeing the B-52H's arrival and will fly the bomber sometime before the exhibition ends on Sunday.

"I think there was a lot of work and coordination and it was really helpful to see that it all worked out in making history," he said.

Neither Wilcox nor Park would comment on a Wednesday report from the Yonhap News Agency that said the bomber would take part in aerial drills with South Korean and Japanese fighters jets in the coming days.

Earlier on Thursday, the chairman of South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Kim Seung-kyum, stopped by the airport to inspect the B-52H.

Kim said Washington and Seoul's policy of demonstrating "peace through strength" will continue and the allies are prepared to "overwhelmingly and decisively" respond to a North Korean nuclear attack, according to a news release from the Ministry of National Defense.

North Korea's Supreme People's Assembly on Sept. 27 voted unanimously to amend its constitution to increase production of nuclear weapons, according to the state-run Korean Central News Agency. The vote came one year after Pyongyang called its nuclear weapons program "irreversible."

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