(NBC New/William M. Arkin and Robert Windrem) — Call it gunboat diplomacy from 35,000 feet.
Three times in the last two months, the United States has flown B-1 bombers, equipped with the latest non-nuclear cruise missiles, on missions in Europe and Asia meant to show adversaries as well as allies what one U.S. commander called "an unshakable commitment."
The flights are part of strategic missions aimed at sending explicit messages to Russia, China and North Korea. Each of the B-1's is equipped with two dozen non-nuclear cruise missiles with highly accurate, bunker-busting warheads, a new capability.
"Deployment follows capability," said Hans M. Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists, who tracks the missions. He explained that with the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM), a cruise missile, the U.S. believes it has an intimidating, even if non-nuclear, capability.
The latest mission took place Monday night Eastern Time over the Korean peninsula, when two B-1 bombers flew within a few miles of the DMZ between North and South Korea, accompanied by U.S. F-16's and South Korean F-15's. Earlier in the mission, which was flown out of Andersen Air Force Base in Guam, the B-1's were escorted by Japanese F-15's.
The U.S. left no doubt that the flyover was related to North Korea's latest nuclear weapons test, which took place four days ago.
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