Last night, as tensions rise on the Korean peninsula, the U.S. embassy in South Korea sent out this rather intimidating image, with the caption: “B-52 bombers fly over South Korea, once again demonstrating the depth of the alliance” (it was sent out in Korean, too).
The U.S. Air Force has been carrying out training flights over South Korea recently, explaining that they are ”drawing attention to the fact that we have extended deterrence capabilities that we believe are important to demonstrate in the wake of recent North Korean rhetoric.”
The large weapon in the middle is a launcher for AGM-86 ALCM, a cruise missile that can be outfitted with either a nuclear or conventional payload; that launcher, which would be placed in the plane’s bomb bay, holds eight missiles, and there are at least three more missiles held on the plane’s inner right pylon (on the left of the photo). The first three rows of weapons on the ground are conventional, relatively small, and unguided bombs the B-52 can carry — notably, the second echelon of bombs (the more stubby-looking ones) is the Mark 117 model, a 750-pound bomb that actually dates back to . . . the last time the U.S. bombarded the Korean Peninsula, in the 1950s. The B-52′s total payload capacity is 70,000 pounds.
Interestingly, this appears to be a stock photo provided of the B-52 that’s been floating around for a while (a larger version with more detail is here). The photos of the actual B-52s on their training flights in northeast Asia are a bit less intimidating-looking. You can see, then, the clear message that’s trying to be sent — the American embassy in Seoul’s social-media office obviously has a slightly different style than, say, that of the one in Cairo.
In response to North Korea’s abrogation of its peace accord with South Korea and dramatically increased belligerence, the U.S. hasn’t clearly increased its presence in the Korean peninsula and these flights aren’t completely exceptional. But the Obama administration did announce on Friday that it would be beefing up the American missile-defense presence in Alaska, a prominent bulwark raised against the Hermit Kingdom. Michael Auslin wrote about that development yesterday for NRO.