U.S.: Fighter exercise not a show of force
Stars and Stripes June 19, 2007
KUNSAN AIR BASE, South Korea — A massive exercise at Kunsan Air Base that includes 90 aircraft and more than 450 airmen from around the world isn’t meant to be a show of force toward North Korea, but it could have that unintended effect, a top U.S. Air Force official said Tuesday.
"In any way, if we are contributing to the security and stability of what goes on in the region, we’re more than happy to do that," said Gen. Howie Chandler, commander of the Pacific Air Command in Hawaii.
North Korea frequently characterizes military exercises in South Korea as threats against its security, despite official assurances to the contrary.
Chandler spoke briefly to about 60 media members visiting the remote base on the first day of flying during the weeklong Max Thunder exercise. He was at Kunsan as part of a Pacific air bases tour to discuss accountability following the resignations of the Air Force secretary and chief of staff earlier this month over a mishandling of nuclear weapons and technology.
Max Thunder is being held to prepare South Korean F-15 pilots to fly in next month’s Red Flag exercise at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. Although South Korea has participated in Red Flag six times, this will be the first the country has flown F-15s in the exercise. France and India aircraft will make their Red Flag debuts.
About half of the 90 aircraft participating in the exercise — including A-10s, F-16s, F-15s, KC-135s and B-52 bombers — belong to the Republic of Korea Air Force.
Most training missions involve four or eight jets simulating a battle. In Max Thunder, 50 or 60 jets are flying at the same time, which makes planning and flying more complicated, said Maj. Matt Baugh, an F-15 pilot from Mountain Home Air Force Base. About 90 personnel from the Idaho air base are at Kunsan for the exercise, as well as airmen from Guam and Okinawa.
"It’s the first time we’re able to work together on such a large scale," said Kunsan pilot Capt. Chris Hubbard.
He said pilots were practicing the same tactics as they would during a daily training mission, but with many more aircraft flying in a relatively small airspace.
Maj. Brian Collins, a pilot from Osan Air Base, said the South Korean air force has had the F-15s about two years but is just starting to fly them in missions.
"It takes a long time to build up a squadron and make them mission capable," he said.
Language differences weren’t causing a significant problem, he said, because the South Korean pilots speak English and both countries’ pilots share a common flight terminology.