High-tech bombing range opens in S. Korea
U.S. pilots will begin training next week on an improved South Korean bombing range, as both countries continue discussing whether South Korea will provide more ranges for U.S. troops stationed there, a 7th Air Force spokeswoman said.
“Two ranges, each with unique limitations, are not enough to cover all of our training requirements,” Lt. Col. René White said.
The improved range on Chikdo Island, 40 miles off South Korea’s west coast, has a new Weapons Impact Scoring System, which uses cameras to measure how far simulated weapons land from their targets.
South Korea spent about $5.2 million to install the system and make improvements to the range, a South Korean Ministry of National Defense spokesman said.
South Korean pilots were scheduled to begin using the air-to-ground bombing range at Chikdo on Wednesday, but flights were grounded due to bad weather. South Korean airmen will use the facility 70 percent of the time, and U.S. airmen will train there the remaining time.
U.S. Air Force officials said American pilots will use Chikdo on all flight training days, but the amount of flying time has not been determined.
White said the U.S. Air Force still needs other ranges to meet its training needs, because each range is different and pilots need to train over different landscapes.
“It’s not about a specific number of ranges, it’s about expanding our access to training ranges which helps accommodate our varied mission requirements,” she said.
Chikdo’s new weapons scoring system comes two years after South Korea closed its Kooni Range Complex. Chikdo is smaller than Kooni and, because of its size, pilots cannot use live weapons there. Several high-ranking U.S. officials, including U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. B.B. Bell, said the closure left U.S. troops without adequate training facilities.
“One thing is for sure: We are not going to allow American aircrews to go into a war, or to propose that they can deter a war, unless they’re trained and ready,” Bell told Stripes in July 2006. “If I can’t get access to an air-to-ground range, I’m going to have to do something.”
Since the Kooni complex’s closure, USFK pilots have been training at a firing range at Pilsung, which has a weapons scoring system similar to the one at Chikdo, and at ranges off the peninsula, including in Japan.
South Korean officials selected the weapons scoring system, but USFK was involved in “integrating the design of the range” for its use, Air Force officials said.
South Korea hired a U.S. company to install the system at Chikdo, but it is being maintained by South Korea without any U.S. military involvement.