North Korean leader Kim Jong-un toured a powdered potato factory in Ryanggang Province near the border with China on Wednesday, well away from the state-of-the-art USA fighter jets that are buzzing his southern border.
South Korea's Defense Ministry confirmed that the operation was "aimed at enhancing the all-weather, day and night combined air power operation capabilities of South Korea and the U.S." and will involve preparing for wartime scenarios that include neutralizing North Korean nuclear and missile targets.
On Wednesday, a U.S. B-1B bomber joined the joint U.S.
The drills come a week after North Korea said it had tested its most advanced intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the United States, as part of a weapons program that it has conducted in defiance of worldwide sanctions and condemnation. Yet the Air Force claimed that the drills were "not in response to any incident or provocation" and pointed out that the USA and South Korea carry them out every year.
North Korea hates such displays of American military might at close range and claimed through its state media on Tuesday that the "U.S. imperialist war mongers' extremely reckless war hysteria" has put the region at risk of a nuclear war.
North Korea regularly threatens to destroy South Korea, the United States and Japan.
But Chinese leaders have criticised the nuclear build-up of Kim Jong-Un's regime as well as lambasting the US and South Korea for escalating tensions.
The increasingly tense stand-off between the USA and North Korea may have hit a new high this week.
But earlier, the North Korean state media said the drill pushes the Korean Peninsula "to the brink of nuclear war".
He and vice foreign minister Pak Myong-Kuk discussed "cooperation between the DPRK and the UN Secretariat and assistance from UN agencies to the DPRK and other matters of mutual interest", the North's KCNA news agency reported, using the acronym for the country's official name.
President Donald Trump has been tightening the screw on North Korea, ramping up sanctions and urging other countries to sever trade links with Kim Jong Un's regime.
But North Korea has a problem there. China is North Korea's lone major ally and fears widespread instability on its border.