The Vigilant Ace, the biggest-ever South Korean and United States joint air force drill, has started today. 12 000 US military personnel and over 230 aircraft are taking part in the exercise on the Korean Peninsula until December 8, 2017.

The Vigilant Ace is a regular exercise, the US and South Korea insist. According to South Korea’s defense ministry, it is “aimed at enhancing the all-weather, day and night combined air power operation capabilities of South Korea and the US”, the New York Times reports.

Among the military assets sent for the drill by the United States Seventh Air Force there is “an unusually large number of the latest generations of stealth fighter jets, for the annual training in the Korean Peninsula,” the Washington Post reports, quoting an US Air Force spokesman.

Over 230 aircraft are participating in the drill, among which there are six F-22 Raptor stealth jet fighters and 18 F-35 stealth fighter jets. In addition, B-1B Lancer bombers are also expected to participate, but their presence in the exercise was confirmed by South Korean media and not the US Air Force. 

The joint exercise is beginning as the tension in the Korean Peninsula is rising again. It comes just one week after North Korea announced a successful testing of its most powerful intercontinental ballistic missile, with the range capable of reaching most of the US.

North Korea’s state Rodong media outlet called the drill a provocation and said it is pushing towards a nuclear war. "It is an open, all-out provocation against the DPRK, which may lead to a nuclear war any moment," the Daily Nation quotes an editorial issued on December 3, 2017. "The US and South Korean puppet warmongers would be well advised to bear in mind that their DPRK-targeted military drill will be as foolish as an act precipitating their self-destruction".

Both China and Russia had previously urged the Vigilance Ace organizers to call off the drill. As the tension rises, the US senator Lindsey Graham advised the Pentagon to bring back the US military personnel families from South Korea, while the White House National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster admitted on December 3, 2017 that probability of war with North Korea “is increasing every day”.