US puts on show of strength in skies over North Korea

A South Korean politician has said North Korean hackers stole highly classified military documents that include US-South Korean wartime 'decapitation strike' plans against the North's leadership.

The US flies two supersonic heavy bombers over the Korean peninsula in a fresh show of force against North Korea's nuclear and missile threats. Picture: JOSHUA SMOOT/AFP/Getty Images

The United States, meanwhile, staged another show of force meant to deter any North Korean aggression by flying two B-1B supersonic bombers from an airbase in the US territory of Guam to South Korea for drills with the country’s fighter jets. Such flights incense the North, which claims they are preparation for war – Pyongyang has threatened to send missiles into the waters around Guam.

If confirmed, the reported hacking attack by the North would be a major blow for South Korea at a time when its relations with North Korea are at a low point. The South has taken an increasingly aggressive stance toward the North’s belligerence amid back-and-forth threats of war between North Korea and US president Donald Trump.

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North Korea’s possession of secret war plans would require a major overhaul of how South Korea and Washington would respond if there was another war on the Korean Peninsula.

An unusually aggressive approach to the North by Donald Trump – which has included rhetoric hinting at US strikes and threatening the destruction of North Korea’s leadership – has some South Koreans fearful that war is closer than at any time since the Korean War ended in 1953 in a shaky ceasefire, leaving the Korean Peninsula still technically in a state of war.

Lee Cheol-hee, a politician from the ruling Democratic Party who sits on South Korea’s National Defence Committee, said defence sources told him North Korean hackers last year stole the classified US-South Korean war plans, including parts of Operational Plan 5015, which includes procedures for a”decapitation strike” on the North’s leadership if a crisis breaks out or appears imminent.

After an investigation, the defence ministry said in May that North Korea was probably behind the hacking of the Defence Integrated Data Centre in September last year, but had refused to confirm speculation that the decapitation strike plan was compromised. Defence officials refused to comment yesterday.

The bilateral training mission between the US B-1B bombers and South Korean F-15K fighter jets follows a mission last month in which US bombers and fighter escorts used pre-dawn hours to fly to the farthest point of the border between North and South Korea by any US aircraft this century.

South Korean analysts said the night-time flights, and the decision by Washington and Seoul to release the itinerary of the warplanes, are aimed at sending a clear warning to North Korea and demonstrating capability for surprise attacks.