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YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — As part of a high-tech commitment to enhancing military capabilities in the region, a squadron of F-117 Nighthawks — more commonly known as stealth fighter-bombers — has been deployed temporarily to South Korea, U.S. officials said Tuesday.

The squadron, from the 49th Fighter Wing at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., arrives this week at Kunsan Air Base in central South Korea.

“In coordination with the Republic of Korea government, U.S. Pacific Command and U.S. Forces Korea have identified certain forces to deploy to the ROK from June to September 2004,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Deborah Bertrand, a USFK spokeswoman.

“These forces, to include personnel and equipment … will gain valuable interoperability and experience training with the combined forces of the ROK-U.S. alliance for defense of the ROK. The deployment includes one squadron of F-117s, to Kunsan, as part of the U.S.’s $11 billion force enhancements package to the ROK,” she added.

The stealth aircraft, along with upgraded Patriot missile batteries and unmanned aerial vehicles, are the most highly touted of the $11 billion upgrades promised by the United States to assuage jitters about restructuring or reducing the number of U.S. forces in South Korea.

American officials repeatedly have stressed “capabilities” instead of numbers of boots on the ground, and the deployment of the stealth squadron is another move in that direction.

However, it is not the first time the aircraft have deployed to South Korea, USFK officials said. Last year, F-117s participated in the Reception, Staging, Onward Movement and Integration (RSO&I) exercise and “remained for additional training for another month,” Bertrand said.

South Korean military officials also confirmed the deployment, saying they had been notified of the move a few months back. A Ministry of National Defense spokesman said the deployment was part of “planned exercises.”

The F-117A Nighthawk is a single-seat attack aircraft designed to penetrate dense threat environments and attack high-value targets with precision munitions, according to a profile of the aircraft on Globalsecurity.org, an online military information clearinghouse.

The Nighthawk is about the size of an F-15 Eagle, is air-refuelable and has been deployed throughout the world.

Special materials and technologies make the aircraft virtually undetectable by anti-aircraft radar. The first F-117A was delivered in 1982; the last delivery was in the summer of 1990.

The aircraft first saw action in December 1989 during what was dubbed Operation Just Cause in Panama. Other deployments included the first Gulf War, where it was widely used, and in NATO air raids in the Balkans.


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