The Air Force has not conducted any bomber missions over the Korean Peninsula in the months since President Donald Trump this summer called for a suspension of exercises in support of diplomatic talks with North Korea, the service’s top general in the Pacific region told reporters Monday.
“We’ve been flying the same amount of bomber missions,” said Air Force Gen. Charles Brown, commander of U.S. Air Forces Pacific. “What we haven’t done is over Korea.”
The president seemed to correct Mattis in his tweet and cast doubt on possible joint exercises this spring.
The flights over the Korean Peninsula are part of the U.S. continuous bomber presence to support deterrence and regional security. Instead of flying over Korea, the Air Force has focused on bomber training missions with Japan and Australia, Brown said.
Last week, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis confirmed that the Pentagon was reducing the size of the Foal Eagle air, land and sea exercises this spring at the request of the South Korean government, “to keep it at a level that will not be harmful to diplomacy.”
The news comes roughly a month after the Pentagon officially suspended another joint exercise known as Vigilant Ace, an annual December air exercise involving more than 12,000 forces.
The Foal Eagle exercise will go on, but just not as planned.
Brown said the suspension of the exercises, including Vigilant Ace, was also done at the request of South Korea and was being mitigated by re-sizing partnered exercises.
“We’re able to scope exercises … we do our exercises a little bit differently than we had originally planned,” Brown said. “And so for each of our exercises we’ll continue to plan up until we get guidance that changes that exercise.”
But that can only go so far before readiness is impacted, Brown said.
“There [are] smaller, what I call part ‘type, task,’ elements we can do to maintain that level of readiness,” Brown said. “Now over time, if we continue to suspend, then there’s some things we may have a difficult time actually training to.”