U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz weighed in on the situation on the Korean Peninsula this morning, telling reporters that while American fighter jets remain on their normal alert status, the U.S. has plenty of firepower in the region in case North Korea gets even more trigger happy.
"Clearly, we have substantial Air Force assets in a number of locations in the Western Pacific both on the Korean Peninsula at Osan and Kunsan as well as at Kadena [Japan] and mainland Japan and further east in Guam," said Schwartz. "Those assets are certainly ready and the commander of Pacific Command, [Adm.] Bob Willard, and Gen. Skip Sharp [commander of all forces in South Korea] are prepared to use those assets if they're required."
He went on to say that while the U.S. is ready to respond, the situation is currently under the control of the South Korean air force.
"I think it's significant that it's the [South Korean air force] that's principally in the lead as we speak with as many as eight F-15s flying [combat air patrols] at the moment."
He then described this morning's artillery exchange as the most recent in a number of "provocations" from North Korea.
"The bottom line is, we have substantial capability on the peninsula and in the immediate environments to sustain a very credible deterrent posture," said the general when asked his thoughts on basing tactical nuclear warheads in South Korea.
Schwartz then said he would prefer to give his advice on the nuclear issue to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff rather than the press before adding, "there is no question that there is a very substantial air power and joint team capability in the Western Pacific that, certainly, the North Koreans must respect."
All this comes after North and South Korea spent the morning lobbing dozens of artillery shells at one another killing at least two South Korean marines and wounding 18 more people. The exchange took place between a South Korean island and the North's mainland close to where a South Korean navy ship, the Cheonan, was sunk in March, according to the New York Times. In contrast to Schwartz's statements, the Times reports that South Korean fighter jets were placed on alert but did not fly.
The situation there remains tense with the thousands of old soviet artillery tubes in the North pretargeted on installations throughout the south. Needless to say, any conflict would get very nasty if it escalated out of control. The U.S. has several squadrons of F-16s, A-10s at Osan and Kunsan Air Bases in south Korea and the U.S. army has close to 20,000 troops scattered around the country. These U.S. units along with the South Korean military can hopefully stave off the North long enough for reinforcements to arrive from nearby bases in Asia.
From the Korea Times:
The North fired shells from bases in Gaemeori and Mudo, 12 to 13 kilometers from Yeonpyeong.
The North Korean army is believed to have about eight 27-kilometer-range 130mm howitzers and eight 76 guns with a range of 12 kilometers.
By number, the North is said to have deployed about 1,000 artillery pieces on islands near the NLL. Most are known to be hidden in mountain caves and tunnels.
Yeonpyeong Island lies only about 12 kilometers from the North Korean mainland.
The South Korean military responded with the advanced K9 self-propelled howitzer. The K9 carries a 155mm/.52 caliber gun with a maximum firing range of 40 kilometers.
A JCS official said the number of North Korean casualties had not been confirmed but the damage to the North would be serious in consideration of K9’s much better capability.