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South Korea-based jets wrap up nearly monthlong drills in Alaska

An F-16 Fighting Falcon from the 80th Fighter Squadron takes off from Kunsan Air Base, South Korea, Oct. 4, 2018.

STEFAN ALVAREZ/U.S. AIR FORCE

By MARCUS FICHTL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 5, 2018

PYEONGTAEK, South Korea — A dozen jets and more than 100 Kunsan-based airmen are back in South Korea after spending nearly a month dogfighting over Alaska.

The F-16 Fighting Falcons of the 80th Fighter Squadron, 8th Fighter Wing arrived at Eielson Air Base, near Fairbanks, Oct. 10 for the two-week Red Flag exercise before moving on to smaller, weeklong Distant Frontier drills.

During Red Flag, two teams operated on both sides of 57,000 square miles of airspace, said Lt. Col. Joseph Miranda, 80th Fighter Squadron commander. The “Blue Team” — which included Kunsan’s jets, South Korean F-15K Slam Eagles and Finnish F/A-18 Hornets — would dogfight Eielson’s “Red Team,” a local aggressor squadron, in the air and on the ground.

“It’s something that’s not possible routinely on the [Korean Peninsula],” Miranda told Stars and Stripes in a recent phone interview. The Kunsan jets flew between 10 and 20 sorties daily and partnered with the Marines, Navy and Army, he added.

But Red Flag almost didn’t take off for the unit due to the heavy typhoon season.

“We had a bit of delay because of the weather,” Miranda said, adding that the exercise was postponed about a week after Typhoon Trami pummeled Japan and Okinawa.

Even with the weather delay and a bit of snow in Alaska, Miranda said spirits were high during the exercises, which test his jets’ ability to deploy worldwide.

“All the airman love doing the jobs they’re assigned to and doing it in a different location just adds a different flavor to their day-to-day work,” he said.

With December’s annual Vigilant Ace exercise canceled amid negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear program, the deployment provided one last chance for large-scale sorties before year’s end.

Vigilant Ace was the fourth major combined U.S.-South Korea exercise to be canceled since President Donald Trump abruptly called for cessation of the peninsula’s larger war games during a June summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

fichtl.marcus@stripes.com
Twitter: @marcusfichtl

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