June 19, 2008 (by SSgt. Trevor Tiernan) - Airmen and aircraft from units across the Pacific Air Forces descended on Kunsan Air Base June 16 through 20, to participate in Max Thunder.
SrA. Evan Johnson salutes a pilot from the 35th FS in F-16C block 40 #89-2150 on June 19th, 2008 during exercise Max Thunder. [USAF photo by SSgt. Araceli Alarcon]
Hosted at Kunsan, Max Thunder is a bilateral training exercise intended to increase interoperability between Republic of Korea and United States Air Force Airmen.
"We live here together ... we will go together. It's important that we exercise together," said Col. J. Bryan "Wolf" Bearden, 8th Fighter Wing commander. "There's so much that we have to learn by working together, that's what makes this week so very important."
Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons, F-15E Strike Eagles, A-10 Thunderbolt IIs, B-52 Stratofortresses, E-3 Sentries and KC-135 Stratotankers, flew multiple training missions alongside RoKAF
F-15Ks, KF-16s and (R)F-4s, designed to replicate the scenarios and planning cycles of the Red Flag ahead of the ROKAF's participation in the exercise held annually at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.
"The Red Flag exercise itself will be a tremendous training opportunity for the ROKAF," said Gen. Howie Chandler, PACAF
commander, during his visit to Kunsan June 17.
According to Capt. Chris Hubbard, 8th Operations Group, while Korean and American Airmen regularly work together at Kunsan, the Max Thunder exercise marked the first the two Air Forces had flown together in such large numbers.
"We work together on a daily basis, but this is the first time that we've been able to work together on such a large scale--with that many aircraft flying together," said the Captain who also acted as Max Thunder project officer. "We get to plan together, brief together, fly together and de-brief together. And we learn from each other throughout all those opportunities."
The sheer number of aircraft and participants made this exercise a little different said Captain Hubbard. Consequently, safety was a primary concern.
"It's a small airspace and trying to get that many aircraft in there at the same time is always going to be difficult," he said. "We use the same tactics that we'll do on our daily training missions, but the administration--getting to the airspace, getting back from the airspace, and making sure everybody's safe when we're out there with that many aircraft--is the biggest challenge."
In addition to the 8th FW and ROKAF aircraft normally stationed here, Kunsan also hosted F-15Es from Mountain Home Air Force Base's 389th Fighter Squadron along with approximately 90 Airmen. Maj. Matt Baugh from Mountain Home's 389th Fighter Squadron highlighted the challenges involved with so many aircraft in the air.
"One of the challenges of an exercise of this size is integrating with so many different airframes," he said. "In normal training missions we fly with four jets together, sometimes eight. [During Max Thunder] we're talking upwards of 50 or 60 jets and aircrew all working together, which is challenging."
"It also prepares them [ROKAF] for the style of briefing, de-briefing and training that they'll get at Red Flag," added 1st Lt. Sriram Krishnan, an F-15 weapons systems officer with the 389th FS
. "This is the first time they'll get to see that, on a smaller scale."
Another goal of the exercise was to allow 8th Fighter Wing Airmen to practice bedding down USAF aircraft as well as the ROKAF aircraft deploying to Kunsan said General Chandler.
"It also allows the ROKAF to practice their deployment procedures which will help them as they deploy to Nellis Air Force Base [Nev.] for Red Flag. Secondly it gives us [the USAF and ROKAF] an opportunity to work together in terms of interoperability and how we work together on the Peninsula."
However, the common goal of all the Airmen involved, Air Force and ROKAF, was one of teamwork--from mission planning, briefing, flying and de-briefing, the two Air Forces worked as partners.
"No matter what our future holds, what we can guarantee today is that through this exercise, we'll be able to operate together better," concluded Colonel Bearden.