It was a show of force designed to send a shiver down Kim Jong-un’s spine – two supersonic bombers flanked by American and South Korean fighter jets, ripping through the skies above the Korean Peninsula.
But the formation was actually short an aircraft, after one of the B-1B Lancer bombers had to abort as it taxied for takeoff because of a maintenance issue, it has been reported.
The incident raises questions over the military’s readiness to confront Kim’s army should war suddenly break out.
America and South Korea are conducting their largest ever joint air drills near the North this week, including a B-1b Lancer bomber which was flanked by fighters
But the formation was actually one bomber short after the pilots had to stop on the runway at Guam due to a maintenance issue
The breakdown was reported by an Air Force officer who spoke to Fox News on condition of anonymity.
Previous images of joint flybys using Lancer bombers, taken in September, show two aircraft in the formation.
Only around half of the B-1 bombers in the Air Force’s inventory are ready to fly, the station reports.
The aircraft were first introduced in the 1980s and now often exceed 10,000 miles of flying time, exacerbating mechanical problems.
A lack of spare parts means the aircraft are also difficult to repair, with mechanics forced to salvage from an aircraft ‘boneyard’ in California, Fox claims.
Funding cuts have also left the Air Force around 2,000 pilots and about 4,000 mechanics short.
While there is no doubt among observers that America would eventually win any conflict with North Korea, questions have been raised about the military’s readiness should war break out unexpectedly.
Previous images of the same formation clearly show two bombers at the front. This picture was taken during similar drills back in September
Questions have been raised in the past over whether America is ready for the sudden onset of war with Kim Jong-un (pictured this week)
In November General Jan-Marc Jouas, the former deputy commander of U.S. Forces in Korea, wrote to Senate Democrats expressing his concerns about a potential war.
Jouas cautioned that it would take days or months for reinforcements to reach the region, leaving 28,000 American troops and 490,000 South Korean soldiers to fend off 1.2million North Korean fighters.
The soldiers would have to contend with artillery and rocket bombardments and should ‘expect’ attacks with chemical and nuclear weapons as well, he wrote.
One distinct advantage held by American forces is a vastly superior air force which could be used to take out artillery and rocket batteries – but this task would likely take ‘days’, Jouas said, during which ‘a lot of people will die’.
And if North Korean troops advance quickly into major cities in the South much America’s air power would be negated for fear of killing civilians with strikes, he said.
‘Unlike every conflict since the last Korean War, we will not be able to build up our forces prior to the start of hostilities’ because Kim will preempt any attempt to do so with an attack of his own, Jouas wrote.