In this photo provided by the Republic of Korea (ROK)'s Defense Ministry, US Air Force B-1B bomber, far left, ROK and US fighter jets fly over the Korean Peninsula during the combined aerial exercise, the ROK, Dec 6, 2017. The DPRK's foreign ministry said large military drills and US threats of a preemptive war against Pyongyang have made the outbreak of war on the Korean peninsula "an established fact". (ROK DEFENSE MINISTRY VIA AP)
SEOUL - Two American B-1B heavy bombers joined large-scale combat drills over the Republic of Korea (ROK) on Thursday amid warnings from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) that the exercises and US threats have made the outbreak of war "an established fact".
The remaining question now is: when will the war breakout? We do not wish for a war but shall not hide from it
A spokesman said in a statement
The annual US-ROK "Vigilant Ace" exercises feature 230 aircraft, including a range of the US military's most advanced stealth warplanes, and come a week after DPRK tested its most powerful intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) to date which it says can reach the mainland US.
A spokesman for the DPRK's foreign ministry blamed the drills and "confrontational warmongering" by US officials for making war inevitable.
"The remaining question now is: when will the war breakout?" the spokesman said late on Wednesday in a statement carried by DPRK's official KCNA news agency.
"We do not wish for a war but shall not hide from it."
China again urged calm and said war was not the answer.
"We hope all relevant parties can maintain calm and restraint and take steps to alleviate tensions and not provoke each other," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said in a statement.
"The outbreak of war is not in any side's interest. The ones that will suffer the most are ordinary people."
Tensions on the Korean peninsula have risen markedly in recent months after DPRK's latest missile and nuclear tests, conducted in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions and international condemnation.
On Wednesday, a US B-1B bomber flew from the Pacific US-administered territory of Guam to join the exercises, which will run until Friday.
The flights by the B-1B, one of America's largest strike aircraft, have played a leading role in Washington's attempts to increase pressure on DPRK to abandon its weapons programs.
In September, B-1Bs were among a formation of US military aircraft that flew further north up DPRK's coast than at any time in the past 17 years, according to the US Pacific Command.
That prompted DPRK's foreign minister, Ri Yong Ho, to warn that the DPRK could shoot down the US bombers even if they did not enter DPRK airspace.
READ MORE: UN envoy meets DPRK foreign minister
"B1-B bombers have been regularly dispatched to the Korean peninsula over the past years; however, it seems that the US Air Force might have enhanced its training to better prepare for actual warfare," said Yang Uk, a senior fellow at the Korea Defence and Security Forum.
While B-1Bs are no longer equipped to carry nuclear weapons of their own, they would be key to any strike targeting major DPRK facilities, he said.
"That’s why North Korea has been making such a big deal when B1-B bombers are flying overhead."
The Democratic People's Republic of Korea is also referred to as North Korea.
Both sides insist they don't want war, but blame each other for provocations while saying they will act to defend themselves.
White House national security adviser H.R. McMaster said over the weekend that the possibility of war with DPRK was "increasing every day".
US Republican Senator Lindsey Graham urged the Pentagon on Sunday to start moving US military dependants, such as spouses and children, out of ROK, saying conflict with DPRK was getting close.
The Pentagon said it has "no intent" to move any dependants out of the country.
The DPRK regularly threatens to destroy ROK and the US and says its weapons programs are necessary to counter US aggression. The United States stations 28,500 troops in the ROK, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War.
"Recently, as the US is conducting the largest-ever joint aerial drill on the Korean peninsula targeting the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, its high-level politicians are showing alarming signs by making bellicose remarks one after another," the DPRK's foreign ministry spokesman said, using DPRK's official name.
"These confrontational war-mongering remarks cannot be interpreted in any other way but as a warning to us to be prepared for a war on the Korean peninsula," he said.
DPRK's latest missile test prompted a warning from the United States that DPRK's leadership would be "utterly destroyed" if war were to break out, a statement that drew sharp criticism from Russia.
US President Donald Trump has said the whole of DPRK would be destroyed in the event of war.
The rising tensions coincide with a rare visit to the isolated DPRK by United Nations political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman this week, the highest-level UN official to visit DPRK since 2012.
Feltman met DPRK Foreign Minister Ri on Thursday, following his meeting with the vice foreign minister a day earlier, KCNA said.