Alaska offers rare shot for Osan pilots
Stars and Stripes October 25, 2003
OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea — As an A-10 attack pilot based with the 25th Fighter Squadron here, Air Force Capt. Aaron Linderman gets few chances to practice strafing runs with his plane’s tank-killing 30 mm cannon.
Practice time on South Korean training ranges is scarce: The ranges are few, relatively small and in heavy demand by both U.S. and South Korean military pilots.
Training is limited further by South Korean government restrictions meant to ease public noise complaints. And South Korea offers only one range for A-10 strafing practice.
But when Linderman put in two weeks of training in Alaska last summer, strafing with the GAU-8 cannon was the norm.
“In the 10 months I’ve been in Korea, I’ve done that twice,” he said, “and the two weeks I was in Alaska I did it every flight.”
Linderman’s Alaska stint was part of the “Boar Swap” exchange program between the 25th and the 355th Fighter Squadron at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska.
Both squadrons fly the A-10 Thunderbolt II, or “Warthog,” an aircraft designed to give close support to ground troops.
Also called the “tank-killer,” it carries bombs, missiles and its signature weapon, the GAU-8 30 mm cannon, which can unleash up to 3,900 rounds per minute.
Though active some years ago, said Linderman, the exchange program went dormant.
But it was revived this year, with two Alaska pilots coming to Osan last spring.
Then this summer, Osan sent two pilots to Eielson: Linderman and Capt. Britt Warren.
And next month, each base will send two pilots to the other.
“We learn what types of tactics they use out in Alaska and we show them what we use over here in Korea, in case they have to come over here,” Linderman said, “just pretty much back-and-forth sharing each other’s tactical ideas on how to do certain missions.”
For South Korea-based pilots, Boar Swap affords the opportunity to meet annual requirements for strafe training.
There’s ample range time and the chance to practice A-10 tactics unfettered by South Korea’s space constraints or restrictive rules.
“The range time there, we got a lot more of it,” said Linderman, “because there’s not as many different units competing for it. Here in South Korea, we’ve got all of the United States Air Force, possibly Army helicopter units, plus the Republic of Korea’s air force, all vying for the same range.
“So you get an hour’s range time” in Alaska “instead of the 15 minutes, and you can utilize that hour and do a lot of the tactics training,” he said.
And range space in Alaska for aircraft to maneuver?
“Some of the ranges up there are probably the size of … South Korea, just because it’s so wide up there,” said Linderman.
“One of the big things we did there that we’re not always able to do here — because Korean rules are different from American rules — is utilize our Gatling gun and do what’s called long-range strafe and low-angle strafe,” Linderman said.
Long-range strafe involves flying low-level between 300 feet and 500 feet and starting to fire the cannon at a target from 6,000 feet to 9,000 feet away.
Low-angle strafe entails flying at 300 feet above ground and opening fire from 2,000 to 3,000 feet from the target.
Alaska’s environment last summer “was actually an eye-opener for both myself and Capt. Warren,” said Linderman.
“The sun never actually went down the two weeks we were there in July. … You drive around at one in the morning and the sun would be at a position where it’s normally like 8 o’clock at night. You’d be just like, ‘Holy cow, it’s time to go home and try to get some sleep.’”
“We were pretty tired for the couple of weeks we were there just because of getting used to the … sun,” said Linderman.
“We flew pretty much every other day as opposed to every day, just so we could get some rest.”
Given the importance of the GAU-8 to the Warthog’s mission, getting to practice strafing in Alaska is a key benefit to Osan’s pilots, said 1st Lt. Tom Montgomery, a base spokesman.
“For us in Korea it’s tough to fill annual strafe requirements,” he said.
“We have only one range where we can do all types of strafing. The cooperative effort between Osan and Eielson allows our pilots to fill all of their strafe squares,” or training requirements.