[THE INVESTOR] South Korea and the US militaries on Dec. 4 kicked off their biggest-ever combined air force exercise, involving two dozen US stealth fighters, in a show of force against North Korea’s escalating nuclear and missile threat.
The two countries’ Air Forces launched its annual The Vigilant Ace 18 drill, which involves six F-22 Raptors, six F-35A and 12 F-35B, according to the South Korean and US Air Forces. A total of 12,000 US personnel from the Air Force, Marines and Navy will also join the exercise. The drill will continue until Dec. 8.
An A-10 fighter jet takes off from an air base in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province on Dec. 4 as South Korea and the US begin the five-day join Air Force drill "Vigilant ACE."
Some 260 aircrafts from South Korea and the US are expected to participate in the exercise, the military sources here said, while the US Air Force said last week the drill will involve about 230 aircrafts. The defense ministry declined to reveal the specific number of participating aircrafts.
“(The exercise) highlights the longstanding military partnership, commitment and enduring friendship between two nations. It is designed to ensure peace and security on the Korean Peninsula, and reaffirms the US commitment to stability in the Northeast Asia region,” the US 7th Force said in a statement.
Although the military characterized the drill as “annual” and “regular,” the exercise is largely seen as a part of US extended deterrence to South Korea against North Korea, which fired a new Hwasong-15 Intercontinental ballistic missile last Wednesday.
Including two dozen stealth aircrafts, the US also dispatched six EA-18G Growler -- electronic warfare aircrafts -- as well as a group of F-15C and F-16 jet fighters. B-1B Lancer bombers are also said to join the drill. Most of them flew from US Air Force bases in Japan.
For the South Korean part, F-15K, KF-16, FA-50 and F05 jet fighters will also participate in the drill. E-737 Peace Eye surveillance aircrafts and KA-1 training fighters will join the US advanced assets to conduct “realistic” combat training, according to the South Korean Air Force.
“It is quite rare for the US to deploy stealth fighters in such a scale,” said a South Korean military official, who declined to reveal his identity due to the sensitivity of the issue.
During the five-day exercise, the allies’ air forces are expected to conduct drills targeting North Korea’s mobile missile launchers -- also known as Transporter Erector Launchers -- and underground nuclear and missile facilities.
South Korea’s Defense Ministry told lawmakers Friday that the exercise will apply combined Prepositioned Air Tasking Order (Pre ATO), a classified military plan that lists air sorties for a fixed 24-hour period, with individual aircraft types, and mission types.
The wargame will also focus on conducting precision strikes against North Korea’s long-range artillery units positioned across the border and interdicting operation designed to block North Korea’s Special Forces’ naval infiltration, the military sources said.
“Through real-time coordination and control between the combined forces’ assets, we will ensure our capability to accomplish missions, familiarize with procedures for combined operations and enhance our logistic capability,” the South Korean Air Force said in a statement.
By Yeo Jun-suk/The Korea Herald (email@example.com)