U.S. considers military options against North Korea over nuclear program

U.S. options on N. Korea

WASHINGTON -- The Air Force calls it an “elephant walk” -- 22 F-15s armed and ready to scramble from Kadena Air Base in Japan, 900 miles from North Korea’s capital. It was conducted earlier this week and recorded by Air Force cameras for North Korea to see.

“We reconfigured every one of those F-15s with live ordnance inside of 24 hours and put them back on status ready to fight,” Brig. Gen. Barry Cornish told CBS News.

But notice Gen. Cornish was wearing a flak jacket in the interview.  

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Brig. Gen. Barry Cornish speaks during an interview from the Kadena Air Base in Japan. CBS News

The air base at Kadena is in range of North Korean missiles -- as are 25 million people in the South Korean capital of Seoul. The U.S. could launch a devastating attack but could not stop the North Korean military from firing off enough salvos to wreck horrendous destruction, which is why Defense Secretary Jim Mattis sounds so diplomatic.

“In regards to North Korea, we are working with international partners in order to defuse the situation,” Mattis said at the Pentagon Thursday.

If North Korea conducts another underground nuclear test or launches more missiles into the sea, the U.S. would likely limit its reaction to a show of force, sending B-1 bombers from Guam to fly along the coast and bringing in an aircraft carrier battle group. However, if North Korea were to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile toward the U.S., that might trigger a military response in the form of a cyberattack.

The Trump administration is counting on China to pressure North Korea into giving up its nuclear weapons program, but if that doesn’t work, they will turn to military options. One officer said, “When this crowd says ‘all options are on the table,’ they mean it. They really mean it.”

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F-15s are armed and ready to scramble from Kadena Air Base in Japan. CBS News
  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.