Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh and CMSAF James Cody arrived in South Korea just days after US Forces Korea kicked off the annual two-week Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise with the South Korean military. The exercise, which concludes on Aug. 30, involved defeating a simulated North Korean assault. In contrast to the belligerent rhetoric from North Korea that accompanied allied exercises in the spring, Pyongyang’s reaction has been noticeably different, according to USFK and 7th Air Force officials. No announced or observed shift in North Korea’s military readiness or alert status has occurred, in contrast to the escalation of bellicose behavior in March, which culminated with the United States dispatching F-22s to the peninsula and conducting a roundtrip training sortie with two B-2s from Whiteman AFB, Mo., to South Korea. According to multiple officials, the effect of those activities was palpable and there is little doubt North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s current attempts to curry favor via diplomatic channels are related to the strong demonstration of that allied resolve.
The Air Force overall reduced its size by 120 aircraft in fiscal year 2021, but kept about the same number of fighter, bomber and attack aircraft, according to data supplied by the service. The F-35 fleet saw the biggest increase while the B-1B bomber fleet saw the largest decline.