As part of the "all options on the table" approach to North Korea often pushed by President Donald Trump and his cabinet, the U.S. has been training the first operational Marine Corps F-35 squadron to fight through nuclear war if needed.
In mid-November, U.S. Marine Corps pilots and support crew donned Mission Oriented Protective Posture (MOPP) gear to train for war fighting under the strain of chemical, biological, or radiological hazards.
The Marines wore MOPP gear level four, the highest grade of protective gear available to the U.S. military, while executing a "hot refueling," or a fast-paced exercise where the pilot keeps the F-35's engines on while it takes on more gas, so it can take off in a moment's notice.
Hot refueling, as well as hot reloading, where F-35s take in more ordnance while the engines stay on, both represent tactics devised specifically with fighting in the Pacific in mind.
Marines at Miramar do a hot fuel for an F-35. (Image Youtube screengrab)
In the event of war with North Korea, Pyongyang's opening salvo would likely include nuclear, chemical, or biological weapon attacks via ballistic missiles on U.S. bases in Japan. Although the U.S. maintains missile defenses, it's not safe to assume the bases would make it out unscathed.
For that reason, the Marines' F-35B, which can take off and land vertically, needs flexibility to improvise, land on makeshift runways, and turn around to keep fighting in minimal time.
Training in MOPP gear assures that the pilots and crew won't be caught off guard when the atmosphere becomes hazardous with chemical, radioactive, or biological agents.
"It's important to practice in MOPP gear because the Marines do''t get many opportunities to wear this on a daily basis, so in the instance where they do have to wear MOPP gear in a real-life scenario, it's not going to be a shock or surprise to them of how they are going to operate," Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Martin Aldrete, a maintenance controller with VMFA-121, said in a statement.
The military's best planes and pilots are all training to take out North Korea
But the Marines' F-35 squadrons aren't alone in training for a possible confrontation with North Korea. In October, 2016 Vermont Air National Guard pilot Adam L. Alpert detailed his experience flying a simulated F-35 strike mission against targets in North Korea.
Alpert said that instead of sending 60 to 75 servicemembers into the air above North Korea aboard F-16s, F-15s, logistics, and surveillance planes, U.S. Air Force planners managed to work out a mission where just four pilots in two F-22 Raptors and two F-35s take out North Korea's main nuclear infrastructure and leave unscathed.
Additionally, a citizen in Missouri intercepted U.S. Air Force B-2 Spirit bombers communicating over radio and discussing a training mission where they were attacking targets in North Korea.
While the U.S. tries to steer clear of war with diplomatic solutions to the North Korean crisis, widespread U.S. military movements and planning show that U.S. is preparing for the worst.