US F-16s in South Korea and Japanese F-35s are both set to get long-range missiles that are ideal for striking North Korean mobile missile launchers.
The US Air Force in South Korea recently increased the range and strength of its aircraft with 10 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles, or JASSMs, that can hit Pyongyang with 2,000 pounds of explosives from almost 200 miles away, according to Yonhap News and other South Korean media reports.
The JASSM allows US F-16s to safely strike nuclear infrastructure and targets deep into North Korea from secure locations near Seoul.
The munition isn't the only signal that the US is ramping up its response to North Korea.
U.S. Air National Guard photo by Airman 1st Class Hayden Johnson
A defense official told Yonhap that US military leaders were considering "making public a live-fire drill involving the JASSM in case North Korea carries out another strategic provocation, such as a sixth nuclear test."
Lockheed Martin, the JASSM's manufacturer, is working on an even longer-range variant of the missile that should be able to accurately strike targets over six hundred miles away.
Meanwhile, Japanese F-35s are expected to field the Joint Strike Missile, developed primarily by Norway's Kongsberg Defence Systems, according to the South China Morning Post. The JSM has an extremely stealthy profile, high precision, and can fly just a few yards above the ground to deliver its 500-pound warhead before ever being detected.
An F-35 firing Joint Strike Missiles. Concept image courtesy of Raytheon.
"The JSM has a tremendous capability and Japan has never previously had anything like this," Lance Gatling, a defense analyst and president of Tokyo-based Nexial Research Inc told the South China Morning Post.
"This weapon, combined with the F-35, will permit Japan to get much closer to targets with a high degree of stealth," he added.
The JSM can sit inside the F-35 and fly almost 200 miles before hitting a moving target, meaning an F-35 could take out a North Korean mobile missile launcher without even getting close to the country.
This update to the firepower of US and Japanese jets comes after a series of North Korean missile tests that could spell out danger in the very near future. North Korea recently tested a rocket engine that could be used to power a missile with sufficient range to hit the US mainland. In the past, rocket engine tests like these have been closely followed by testing of actual missiles.