- By John HudsonJohn Hudson is a senior reporter at Foreign Policy, where he covers diplomacy and national security issues in Washington. He has reported from several geopolitical hotspots, including Ukraine, Pakistan, Malaysia, China, and Georgia. Prior to joining FP, John covered politics and global affairs for the Atlantic magazine’s news blog, the Atlantic Wire. In 2008, he covered the August war between Russia and Georgia from Tbilisi and the breakaway region of Abkhazia. He has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, BBC, C-SPAN, Fox News radio, Al Jazeera, and other broadcast outlets. He has been with the magazine since 2013.
With each passing day, the United States has met North Korean bellicosity with the deployment of increasingly sophisticated aircraft to the East Asian peninsula. But with Sunday’s mobilization of F-22 stealth fighter jets, the U.S. military has quickly hit its ceiling of awe-inspiring next-generation aircraft. Let’s review:
1. B-52 Bombers
On March 18, the Pentagon announced the flight of nuclear-capable B-52 bombers in training missions above South Korea. The subsonic, jet-powered bombers may be from Eisenhower’s reign, but they’re still capable of launching nuclear-armed cruise missiles. In response, the North Korean army threatened to strike U.S. bases in Guam and Japan.
2. B-2 Bombers
Next came the B-2 Spirit bombers on March 28. The stealth bombers, capable of deploying both conventional and nuclear weapons, dropped munitions on a South Korean island and flew back to their home base in Missouri in one trip. Flying the B-2s was a pricey excursion (the planes alone cost $3 billion each), but it didn’t stop Pyongyang’s provocations. North Korea responded by vowing to nuke Los Angeles, Washington, and other U.S. cities.
On Sunday, the United States sent F-22 stealth fighter jets to join war games with South Korea. As the Aviationist noted, in the event of an actual invasion, the radar-evading F-22s would likely escort B-2 bombers “after the rain of cruise missiles that would wipe out most of North Korea’s air defenses.” But the DPRK kept on shouting its “sea of fire” rhetoric. It called for a “sacred war of justice.”
So what’s left? There’s the state-of-the-art F-35, but it’s not operational. There’s the futuristic-looking V-22 Osprey, but it’s not much of a strategic threat. There’s the expansive U.S. drone arsenal, but we’re already giving those to the South Koreans. It would appear that if U.S. muscle-flexing is to continue, military planners will have to come up with something more creative than dusting off the latest hangar trophies.