ROK, US to make show of air power
By Lee Tae-hoon
In an apparent show of force to North Korea, South Korea and the United States kicked off their largest and longest-ever joint air defense exercise Monday.
"The drill will display our readiness and joint air firepower with the United States that can immediately retaliate in the event of war on the Korean Peninsula," Lt. Col. Yoon Young-sam, a spokesman of the Air Force, said.
The combined exercise comes in the wake of growing signs of a third nuclear test by North Korea and only a week after President Lee Myung-bak made it clear that he will sternly respond to any provocation by it.
“Sixty warplanes from the two allies’ air forces, including U.S. airborne early warning and control system (AWACS) and aerial refueling aircraft, will take part in the biannual Max Thunder drill that will run through May 18,” Yoon said.
He underscored that it will be the first time for the allies to extend the one-week exercise to two weeks and to deploy an AWACS, which is capable of simultaneously detecting hostile aircraft, cruise missiles and other incoming aerial threats within a radius of 370 kilometers.
“This spring’s Max Thunder drill will be the largest and longest as both countries recognize the need for a more detailed and better orchestrated air defense following the North’s series of provocative acts,” Yoon said.
A defense source noted that it will also be the first time for the regular drill to have a KC-135 Stratotanker aerial refueling aircraft from Kadena Air Base in Japan participate in a war scenario.
He added that South Korea’s special forces will be also mobilized in a supply exercise using a C-130 Hercules.
The Ministry of National Defense said in a statement that the drill will involve F-15K, F-16, F-4 and F-5 fighter jets from the South and F-16 and A-10 fighters from the United States.
Some 300 pilots from the allies are expected to be mobilized for the exercise taking place largely over the southwestern airspace of the peninsula.
Training missions include simulating air battles with four or eight combat jets, air refueling and neutralizing an enemy's air defense system.
There is growing speculation that the North may stage another provocation in the near future, including a nuclear test by using highly enriched uranium (HEU), following the failed launch of a long-range rocket on April 13.
Seoul has beefed up its air defense readiness by making both air-to-ground and air-to-air combat fighters ready to counterattack North Korean targets within minutes following the North’s two deadly attacks in 2010.
In defiance of the international community’s warning, the North launched a long-range rocket, which it claimed carried a satellite, last month, but this broke into pieces and fell into the West Sea shortly after liftoff.
Pyongyang warned last month that it would soon take “special actions” targeting the Lee administration and some media outlets.
About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War.