In a statement attributed to an unnamed spokesman for its Foreign Ministry, North Korea said the expansion of allied drills threatens to turn the Korean Peninsula into a «huge arsenal of warfare and a more critical war zone.» «. The statement said the North is prepared to counter any short- or long-term military challenge from allies with the «most overwhelming nuclear force.»

“The military and political situation on the Korean Peninsula and the region has reached an extreme red line due to reckless military confrontational maneuvers and hostile acts by the United States and its vassal forces,” the spokesperson said.

North Korea for decades has portrayed combined US military exercises with South Korea as rehearsals for a possible invasion, even though the allies have portrayed those exercises as defensive.

South Korea’s Defense Ministry said the United States flew B-1B bombers and F-22 and F-35 fighter jets in an exercise Wednesday with South Korean fighters over western South Korean waters. The United States and South Korea also plan to hold a simulation exercise this month with the aim of honing their response if North Korea uses nuclear weapons.

North Korea stepped up its own weapons demonstrations in 2022 as the allies resumed full-scale training. North Korea’s actions included a series of missile and artillery fires that it described as simulated nuclear strikes against South Korean and US targets.

«The DPRK will react most harshly to any US military attempt under the principle of ‘nuclear weapon for nuclear weapon and all-out confrontation for all-out confrontation,'» the North Korean spokesman said, citing the formal name of the country, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“If the US continues to push strategic assets into and around the Korean Peninsula, the DPRK will make its deterrence activities clearer without fail in accordance with their nature,” the spokesperson said.

Jeon Ha Gyu, a spokesman for South Korea’s Defense Ministry, said the ministry had no immediate comment in response to the North Korean statement. He said the latest allied air exercises were aimed at demonstrating the credibility of the United States’ «extended deterrence,» referring to a commitment to use the full range of its military capabilities, including nuclear ones, to defend South Korea. He declined to reveal the exact number of US and South Korean aircraft involved in the exercise.

At a press conference after their meeting, Austin said he and South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-Sup have agreed to further expand their combined military exercises, including more live-fire demonstrations. They pledged to continue a «timely and coordinated» deployment of US strategic assets in the region.

They said their countries’ resumption of large-scale military exercises last year effectively demonstrated their combined capabilities to deter North Korean aggression. The allies had scaled back their training in recent years to create space for diplomacy with North Korea during the Trump administration and because of the covid-19 pandemic.

South Korea and the United States have also been strengthening their security cooperation with Japan, which recently included trilateral missile defense and anti-submarine warfare exercises during a provocative race in North Korea’s weapons tests.

“We deployed fifth-generation F-22 and F-35 aircraft, we deployed a carrier strike group to visit the peninsula. You can look for more of that type of activity in the future,” Austin said.