US, S. Korean jets train amid heightened tensions on Korean Peninsula

By MARCUS FICHTL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 27, 2017

KUNSAN AIR BASE, South Korea – American and South Korean fighter jets have flown hundreds of sorties in the skies over South Korea in recent weeks in an exercise designed to showcase the firepower they can bring to the defense of the peninsula.

Max Thunder, the Air Force’s second largest annual exercise in South Korea, wraps up Friday at Kunsan Air Base.

Eighty U.S. and South Korean planes have averaged 60 sorties a day during the drills, involving 1,000 U.S. and 500 South Korean troops, officials said.

The exercise is happening at a time of increased tension amid threats of a new North Korean nuclear test and fears that it could reignite the decades-long Korean conflict.

Max Thunder is designed to test aerial combat capability and signals American and South Korean commitment, 7th Air Force commander Lt. Gen. Thomas Bergeson said in a statement.

Participating aircraft included Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons and Marine Corps AV-8B Harriers, as well as South Korean F-15K Slam Eagles and F-4E Phantom IIs, officials said.

At Kunsan on Tuesday, Senior Master Sgt. Sherri Knotts, 36, the 8th Fighter Wing’s airfield manager, helped keep operations moving along amid the increased activity.

“Our overall mission and goals is always the same: to have a safe, effective and efficient airfield,” the Avoca, N.Y., native said. “The only difference with Max Thunder, given any other day, is just a lot more frequent presence out on the airfield.”

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Marines from Marine Corps Air Station Yuma service an AV-8B Harrier at Kunsan Air Base, South Korea, during Max Thunder 17, Tuesday, April 25, 2017.