OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea — The U.S. Air Force will build a second runway here, enabling its fighter base nearest North Korea to launch more aircraft.

“We will be able to launch and receive twice as many aircraft than we can now, in the same time,” said Capt. John Ross, chief spokesman for Osan’s 51st Fighter Wing.

“The main reason we are proposing to build a new runway is because the current runway we have is 55 years old and showing signs of deterioration,” he said.

Construction of the $95 million concrete runway is projected to start in January 2009 and be completed by December 2010.

It will be 9,000 feet long and usable by the same aircraft types that the existing runway can support. Those include heavy cargo planes such as the C-17 Globemaster III and the mammoth C-5 Galaxy. Osan’s existing runway also is 9,000 feet.

Osan is 48 miles south of the Demilitarized Zone and home to a fighter wing, a U-2 reconnaissance squadron and a search-and-rescue helicopter unit.

The base is also headquarters to the U.S. 7th Air Force Air Forces Korea. And it’s a key hub because of its proximity to U.S. Forces Korea headquarters in Seoul, about an hour’s drive north.

“Deploying personnel who are coming to the peninsula land here; cargo shipments for USFK and for us, land here. Visiting dignitaries — recently, the Secretary of Defense, Secretary of the Air Force; we’ve also had presidents — land here,” Ross said.

He said the runway design is about 30 percent complete.

“And then we need to contract the design to a builder," Ross said.

It will be for aircraft making nonprecision instrument approaches only. The existing runway can support precision instrument approaches, Ross said.

Operating the new runway is not expected to call for additional staffing, Ross said.

Like the existing runway, the new one will lie east-west. It will be just north of the older runway and just south of the Jinwi River at the base’s northern perimeter, Ross said.

“The original runway was built in 1953 in a six-month period of time, immediately following the war,” Ross said, referring to the Korean War of 1950–53.

“It was built quickly and during the rainy season,” he said. “So the concrete used to build that runway is now deteriorating.

“A new runway will allow us to continue operations while we repair the old runway or perhaps even demolish and reconstruct it.”

While U.S. and South Korean officials have discussed the eventual enlargement of Osan Air Base, any such action would not be because of the new runway, Ross said.

“It’s under discussion, but there’s no firm plan,” he said of any possible expansion.

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