AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — Almost half the firepower of Aviano Air Base will soon be on display in the Republic of South Korea.

The bulk of the 555th Fighter Squadron and its F-16 aircraft have been participating in a Red Flag exercise in Alaska. Air Force officials confirmed Thursday that the Italy-based squadron will continue on to South Korea after the exercise and serve a four-month rotation there.

Capt. Tiffany Payette, public affairs chief for the 8th Air Force based at Kunsan Air Base in South Korea, told Stars and Stripes that the rotation “absolutely” does not indicate an increased security threat in South Korea.

“It’s just kind of the luck of the draw” that they’re coming to Kunsan, said Payette. “They could have been tasked to go to Iraq or Afghanistan.”

The 510th Fighter Squadron at Aviano recently returned from such a deployment and both squadrons have served multiple times in various rotations to the Central Command’s area of responsibility.

But Payette confirmed that this is the first time such a unit based in Europe has been tasked to the Pacific under the Aerospace Expeditionary Force program.

Capt. Jennifer Ferrau, chief of public affairs for the 31st Fighter Wing at Aviano, said Friday that the deployment and exercise in Alaska give the airmen from the Triple Nickel new opportunities.

“The deployment of forces throughout the Pacific provides unique opportunities to integrate various forces into joint, coalition and bilateral training,” she said

Ferrau declined to provide specific numbers of airmen or aircraft from Aviano involved, or disclose when they would arrive in South Korea.

“We don’t talk about operational numbers or anything that could jeopardize our people,” she said. She referred further questions to Payette, who could not be reached for further comment Friday.

Payette said Thursday that 18 aircraft and about 300 airmen would be involved. That represents most of the aircraft assigned to the squadron and about 40 percent of the F-16s assigned to Aviano.

Ferrau forwarded a statement from Air Force public affairs rebutting an earlier wire report that implied that the forces were being sent to bolster U.S. forces in a sign of high tensions in the Korean peninsula:

“AEF rotations occur worldwide, not just in the CENTCOM AOR — this was a normal AEF rotation in support of an (Air Force) tasking. These rotations help maintain the peace and security in the Asian-Pacific region and show the AEF is truly a global look at where we need forces.”

Reporter Ashley Rowland contributed to this story.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for 40 years.

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