TROUBLE IN THE AIR – US Air Force dispatches nuke-sniffer plane into the skies over North Korea on ’emergency’ mission
The WC-135 Constant Phoenix, a special-purpose US military plane, made a surprise sortie over the Sea of Japan.
The US has dispatched a specialised “sniffer plane” to detect nuclear particles in the skies over North Korea.
The WC-135 Constant Phoenix, a special-purpose US military plane, made an emergency sortie today over the Sea of Japan, it’s been revealed.
The plane arrived at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan two weeks ago amid mounting tensions with North Korea over the possibility of a sixth nuclear test.
Nuclear sniffer planes are used to detect and identify radioactive debris in the aftermath of a nuclear weapons test.
Whether the new flight was an operational readiness exercise or an attempt to determine whether or not the reclusive regime is experimenting with nuclear weaponry remains unclear.
The Punggye-ri nuclear test site is reportedly “primed and ready” for another nuclear test.
A government source told a South Korean news agency the Phoenix made an “emergency sortie” over the East Sea with the mission of detecting nuclear samples to identify if a nuclear explosion had taken place.
The plane had previously been deployed to Europe in February where it landed at a UK air base in Surrey before travelling over Norway.
The US military said the aircraft normally operates on a pre-planned rotation that is scheduled well in advance.
The deployment comes amid a major training exercise held between South Korean and US forces in the region.
Operation Max Thunder will see hundreds of troops undertake war games involving aircraft carriers, fighter jets and military drills over 11 days.
The US has stressed such exercises are routine, however it comes after Vice President Mike Pence said the “sword stands ready” if diplomacy fails.
North Korean has also threatened the country is “ready to react” and accused the US of creating a situation in which “a thermonuclear war may break out at any moment.”
US and Korean forces are already taking part in two regional exercises, Foal Eagle and Key Resolve, which involve up to 17,000 troops including the famed special forces team that killed Osama bin Laden in May 2011.
Meanwhile Russia has also reportedly been moving troops, helicopters and vehicles to the North Korean border.
What does the WC-135 Constant Phoenix do?
The WC-135, known as the “sniffer” or “weather bird” by its crews, can carry up to 33 personnel. However, crew compliments are kept to a minimum during mission flights in order to lessen levels of radioactive exposure.Effluent gasses are gathered by two scoops on the sides of the fuselage, which in turn trap fallout particles on filters.
The mission crews have the ability to analyse the fallout residue in real-time, helping to confirm the presence of nuclear fallout and possibly determine the characteristics of the warhead involved.The WC-135 was introduced in December 1965, replacing Boeing WB-50 aircraft in the weather-reconnaissance and air-sampling mission.While most aircraft were placed into storage after the Cold War, three were retained for further use.
Source: By Jon Lockett – The Sun (www.thesun.co.uk) – 20 April 2017