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South Korean F-35s training to destroy North Korean ICBM launchers

A South Korean Air Force F-35 fighter jet drops a GBU-12 precision bomb during joint air drills in response to North Korea's ICBM launch on 18 November. (South Korean Defense Ministry via Getty Images)

South Korean Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters have started training to destroy North Korean missile launchers amid continuing provocations by Pyongyang.

The South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said that four F-35As began training to drop GBU-12 Paveway II precision-guided bombs at Pilseung Shooting Range in Gangwon-do on 18 November. The objective of the exercises was to “hit North Korean [transporter-erector-launcher] TEL mock targets”, the JCS said.

According to the South Korean Ministry of National Defense (MND), the training is to enhance the capability of the F-35 fleet to strike North Korea's missile-related facilities.

Since 5 January, North Korea has conducted at least 65 known launches of short-, medium-, and intermediate-range ballistic missiles, according to Janes data. Another 16 launches comprised unclear missile types.

The MND has said that the training exercise was conducted hours after North Korea launched a Hwasong-17 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on 18 November. The JCS added that the training exercise was a response to the ICBM launch.

The JCS added that this is “the first time that the F-35A has participated in a strike drill for an armed demonstration against North Korea”.

Images released by the state-owned Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) show the Hwasong-17 being launched directly from a TEL.

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