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SEOUL (AFP) – North Korea’s military has said its response to US-South Korean military drills will be “definite and forceful”, state media said on Monday.

The warning follows North Korea’s weapons tests last week, as the United States and South Korea conducted their largest-ever air force drills — including an intercontinental ballistic missile.

The United States and South Korea have warned that such a missile launch could result in North Korea’s nuclear test.

North Korea’s military, formally known as the Korean People’s Army (KPA), said it was responding to Alert Storm – a US-South Korea exercise – it described as an “open provocation”, according to the official Korean Central News Agency. (KCNA).

The KPA said the alert storm was aimed at “deliberate escalation of tensions in the region and dangerous war drills of a highly aggressive nature directly targeting North Korea”.

North Korea will respond to all “anti-DPRK war drills” with “sustainable, firm and forceful” measures, it said.

The US has dismissed criticism of the exercise as North Korean propaganda, saying there is no threat to other nations.

Vigilante Storm was the largest U.S.-South Korean air exercise to date and involved B-1B long-range heavy bombers and F-35 stealth fighters. Handout South Korea Ministry of Defense/AFP

The KPA said it carried out operations including the launch of strategic ballistic missiles that attacked air force bases and practiced shooting down enemy aircraft.

A ballistic missile was launched to test “a special functional warhead capable of paralyzing an enemy’s operation command system,” the KPA said, without giving further details about the weapon.

According to KCNA, North Korea’s air force conducted a “large-scale all-out combat sortie operation” involving 500 aircraft.

That crowd prompted South Korea to shoot down fighter jets on Friday.

Images of North Korean military operations released by KCNA on Monday showed missiles being fired from unknown locations, including mobile launchers.

Weak Air Force

Experts say Pyongyang is particularly vulnerable to exercises like Vigilante Storm because its air force is the weakest link in its military, lacking high-tech jets and properly trained pilots.

Cheong Seong-chang, a researcher at the Sejong Institute in Seoul, said the details of North Korea’s actions last week showed its importance on destroying air bases in the South.

Air Power in the Korean Peninsula
Air Power in the Korean Peninsula John Saiki AFP

“North Korea considers it important to attack and neutralize air bases first because their air power is weak,” Cheong told AFP.

Compared to North Korea’s aging fleet, the alert storm saw some of the most advanced US and South Korean warplanes in action, including F-35 stealth fighters.

The exercise was scheduled to run from Monday to Friday last week, but Washington and Seoul extended it by a day in response to North Korea’s missile launch jitters.

Two US Air Force B-1Bs — long-range heavy bombers — joined the drills in a display of troops.

The joint US-South Korean drills have drawn strong reactions from North Korea, which sees them as rehearsals for an invasion.

Parts of the KPA statement, which claimed it could counter the “doctrine of superiority” of the US and South Korean air forces, were domestic propaganda, said Park Won-Gon, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.

“It is telling that North Korea responded adequately and won the largest joint drill between Seoul and Washington.”

South Korea began its annual Taegeuk computer-simulated military exercise on Monday, which aims to improve North Korea’s ability to respond to various threats.