U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer bombers out of Guam once again made a flyover of the Korean peninsula on Thursday, accompanied by fighter jet escorts from both South Korea and Japan. The show of force has since drawn harsh criticism from Kim Jong Un’s North Korean regime, and may have unintentionally demonstrated their poor understanding of U.S. military assets.
“The gangster-like US imperialists are ceaselessly resorting to their frantic nuclear threat and blackmail to stifle the DPRK with nukes at any cost,” a post from the North Korean government-owned news outlet, KCNA, said.
“On Thursday they let a formation of B-1B nuclear strategic bombers stationed at the Anderson Air Force Base on Guam stealthily fly into South Korea again to stage a surprise nuclear strike drill targeting the DPRK.”
The North Korean statement, ripe with the aggressive indignation that has become a trademark of Kim’s regime, is nothing out of the ordinary. For years, North Korea has issued official statements accusing the United States of everything from assassination missions to declaring war via Twitter, but what makes these remarks stand out is the very buzzword that’s been on everyone’s mind regarding North Korea as of late: “nuclear.”
The B-1B Lancer is indeed a formidable aircraft. With a top speed that exceeds Mach 1.2 and a massive payload capability of some 75,000 pounds, the bomber’s unique design allows it fly more like a fighter jet than America’s other large payload bomber, the aging B-52. However, speed and agility aren’t the only factors that separate the B-1B from its bomber sisters the B-52 and B-2: it is also not a nuclear capable platform. More interesting still, the North Korean government, like some media outlets, don’t seem to know that.
The Lancer did indeed start its life as a nuclear bomber, and with good reason. Stealthier than the lumbering B-52 and significantly faster than the B-2, the B-1B offers a compromise between bomber methodologies along with the largest bomber payload available to the U.S. Air Force. However, back in the early 2000s, the United States agreed to convert the platform into a permanently non-nuclear capable asset as a part of the START treaty with the Russians.
The hard points on the aircraft have been modified to permit only conventional ordnance in a process that was completed in 2011, and Russia actually sends experts to the United States on an annual basis to inspect America’s B-1B fleet to confirm that the modifications haven’t been undone. When the nation’s diplomatic opponents will formally verify that America is flying its aircraft with its nuclear arm tied behind its back, it’s fairly safe to say the conversion remains in effect.
That isn’t to say that the B-1B doesn’t pack a mighty punch, and certainly one that North Korea should be concerned about, but their accusation of U.S. “nuclear strike drill targeting” each time the Lancer conducts show of force operations in the region betrays their lack of understanding of U.S. military capabilities in a potential Korean theater.
It is also possible that North Korea is well aware of the B-1B’s lack of nuclear armament, but hopes to rely on the general news media’s ignorance of the aircraft and military operations to broaden the reach of their increasingly frequent “bullying” claims. North Korea hopes to turn the tide of perception around the world toward seeing the U.S. as the aggressor, rather than enforcer of international law, and as North Korea is well aware, few things will turn the crowd against someone faster than threatening a preemptive nuclear strike.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons