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US jets to Korea: Why send stealth fighters to the region? (+video)

US jets, Korea bound, constitute Washington's latest move in the face of heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula. The presence of the stealth fighters could figure into several American aims.

By Staff writer / April 1, 2013

Two US Air Force F-22 Raptor stealth jet fighters fly near Andersen Air Force Base in Guam in this 2010 photo.

Master Sgt. Kevin J. Gruenwald, US Air Force/REUTERS

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US stealth jets to South Korea to participate in joint drills with Seoul’s military: That’s Washington’s latest move in its continuing effort to deter conflict on the Korean Peninsula.

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Washington Editor

Peter Grier is The Christian Science Monitor's Washington editor. In this capacity, he helps direct coverage for the paper on most news events in the nation's capital.

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The top-line F-22 Raptors were deployed from Japan to Osan Air Base in South Korea, US officials confirmed on Sunday. They are following in the slipstream of B-2 stealth bombers, which dropped dummy bombs on a remote South Korean island during an exercise last week.

What’s the purpose of this latest US military move? After all, North Korea has been pretty belligerent of late. On Sunday, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and other top officials adopted a declaration calling nuclear weapons “the nation’s life,” something they would not trade for “billions of dollars.” Pyongyang is already upset over the continuing US-South Korean military exercises.

How do the F-22s figure into this equation?

First, their presence is likely an effort to show the extent of the US commitment to South Korea’s defense. Exercises are meant to test the integration of particular forces into a joint fighting enterprise; this shows the United States would commit its most expensive jet fighters to a conventional Korean War, if Pyongyang decides to attack.

In that sense, the F-22s complement the appearance of the B-2s. The latter are long-range, nuclear-capable bombers based in the US. The message they sent with their dummy bombs was that Washington remains committed to protecting South Korea and Japan with its own nuclear weapons in the face of North Korea’s nuclear development.

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