A B-2 Spirit stealth bomber flew to the Pacific over the weekend to demonstrate the U.S.'s commitment to partners and allies amid North Korea's increasing missile tests, U.S. Strategic Command officials said.
The flight of the stealth bomber from Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, marks a significant step in the U.S.'s deterrence, or "pressure campaign," against North Korea, which continues to test ballistic missiles and nuclear warheads despite repeated condemnation from the international community.
Its presence marks the first time the B-2 -- capable of carrying both conventional and nuclear weapons -- has been in the Pacific since a trio of the bombers wrapped up training exercises earlier this year with the Australian Air Force.
The Spirit bombers last flew a show-of-force mission in 2013 when they and allied aircraft dropped eight dummy bombs over a training area in Osan.
- General: Air Force Hasn't Put B-52 Bombers on 24-Hour Alert -- Yet
- US B-1B Bombers Conduct First Nighttime Drills With Pacific Allies
- NORTHCOM General 'Amazed' at North Korea's Rapid Missile Advances
While the Air Force maintains the flight was part of a routine mission, the B-2's appearance came during Defense Secretary Jim Mattis's visit to the region, and just days before President Donald Trump departs for his first trip to Asia.
Trump is expected to meet with leaders in Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines.
"The threat from North Korea has grown markedly even since my trip here earlier this year," Mattis said during a press conference alongside his South Korean counterpart, Song Young-moo, on Saturday.
Mattis emphasized that the U.S. does not and will not accept "a nuclear North Korea."
"Any use of nuclear weapons by the North will be met with a massive military response, effective and overwhelming," the former Marine general said.
Whether America's most advanced bomber will stick around for additional exercises, or Trump's visit, is unclear. The command routinely deploys bombers as part of its continuous bomber presence mission.
Most recently, two U.S. Pacific Command-assigned B-1B supersonic bombers for the first time conducted combined drills with the Japan Air Self-Defense Force and Republic of Korea at night.
During the operation earlier this month, the non-nuclear capable Lanceraircraft simulated air-to-ground bomb drops over the water near South Korea's east coast.
-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @Oriana0214.