SEOUL, South Korea — US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Tuesday that the United States will increase its deployment of advanced weapons, such as fighter jets and bombers, on the Korean Peninsula as it strengthens the joint training and operational planning with South Korea in response to growing demand from the North. Korean nuclear threat.

Austin made the comments in Seoul after he and South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-Sup agreed to further expand their combined military exercises, including resuming live-fire demonstrations, and continuing deployment.» timely and coordinated» of strategic assets in the US region, according to its offices.

Austin and Lee also discussed preparations for a mock exercise between the allies in February aimed at sharpening their response if North Korea uses nuclear weapons.

Austin’s trip comes as South Korea seeks stronger assurances that the United States will quickly and decisively use its nuclear capabilities to protect its ally against a North Korean nuclear attack.

South Korea’s security nerves have been heightened since North Korea tested dozens of missiles in 2022, including nuclear-capable ones designed to strike targets in South Korea and the continental United States.

South Korea and the United States have also been strengthening their security cooperation with Japan, which has included trilateral missile defense and anti-submarine warfare exercises in recent months amid North Korea’s provocative series of weapons tests.

In a joint news conference following their meeting, Austin and Lee said they agreed that their countries’ resumption of large-scale military exercises last year, including an air exercise involving US strategic bombers in November, 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.

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

He said the US commitment to protect its allies with its full range of military capabilities, including nuclear, remains «iron.»

North Korea’s intensified missile tests have been marked by threats to preemptively use its nuclear weapons in a wide range of scenarios where it perceives its leadership to be under threat, including conventional engagements or non-war situations.

Tensions could escalate further in the coming months with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un doubling down on his nuclear ambitions.

During a political conference in December, Kim called for an «exponential increase» in nuclear warheads, the mass production of tactical battlefield nuclear weapons against South Korea and the development of more powerful long-range missiles designed to reach the United States. Continental United.