SEOUL, South Korea and the United States will begin massive combined air force drills this week, officials here said Thursday, in an apparent move to strengthen their hand ahead of denuclearization talks with North Korea.

The two-week Max Thunder exercise will begin on Friday, involving some 100 warplanes, including eight F-22 radar-evading fighters as well as an unspecified number of B-52 bombers and F-15K jets, the officials said.

It is the first time that the allies have decided to deploy eight F-22 jets to a combined exercise. Observers said the planned show of formidable air power appears aimed at further pressuring the North to give up its nuclear ambitions.

The B-52 aircraft is expected to be deployed from the U.S. strategic military base in Guam and may join South Korea's F-15Ks to stage tactical air maneuvers.

The exercise is to be hosted by South Korea's Air Force Operations Command and the U.S. 7th Air Force.

"Through this practical exercise, the air forces of South Korea and the U.S. plan to improve aerial operations techniques," an air force official here said on condition of anonymity.

Washington and Pyongyang are preparing to hold their unprecedented summit, which is expected to be held later this month or in June. Topping the agenda is the North's denuclearization, a long-standing issue that has bedeviled the allies' leaders.

Source: Yonhap News Agency