F-22 Raptors fly near Kadena Air Base, Japan. (Senior Airman Clay Lancaster / Air Force)
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OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea — An F-22 squadron just deployed to Japan for training will help demonstrate America's strength to North Korea.
The show of force through joint U.S.-South Korea war games is part of the ongoing push to get North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program, as well as to punish the regime for sinking a South Korean naval frigate in March. Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced the exercises July 20 on a trip to Seoul.
The Air Force and its South Korean counterpart are closely intertwined. A combined air operations center sits next door to the headquarters of 7th Air Force here, where Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Remington is dual hatted as the top Air Force officer in the country and the wartime operational commander of U.S. and South Korean aviation units.
Five U.S. squadrons — four fighter and one reconnaissance — are assigned to South Korea. The fighter jets are F-16 Fighting Falcons and A-10 Thunderbolts; the spy planes are U-2 Dragon Ladies. Backing up the units are squadrons in Japan at Kadena Air Base, home to F-15C Eagles, KC-135 Stratotankers and E-3 AWACS, and Misawa Air Base's F-16s. Often, one U.S.-based fighter squadron is deployed to the region.
The South Korean air force has about 24 fighter squadrons that fly F-15Ks, a Korean version of the F-15E Strike Eagle, and KF-16s.
As part of war games, four of the F-22s will fly sorties along with other Air Force jets based in South Korea and Japan, Navy jets from the carrier George Washington and South Korean fighters.
"They are all here as part of a security package to demonstrate to our allies in northeast Asia that we are here, that we are committed to the alliance with [South] Korea," Remington told Air Force Times in a July 21 interview here.
Cooperation between the air forces ranges from small-scale "buddy wing" visits by pilots and maintainers to South Korea's participation in Red Flag exercises.
"The most fun is what we do with our buddy wings," said Col. Mark DeLong, an F-16 pilot and vice commander of Osan's 51st Fighter Wing. On a buddy wing visit, a pair of Air Force fighters spend several days as part of a Korean squadron, with the two Air Force jets often flying as a two-ship formation with a larger package of South Korean jets. Later, the South Koreans send a pair of their jets to fly with the Air Force.
The large-scale missions involve dozens of U.S. and South Korean planes and hundreds of airmen.
"We have a 7th Air Force training plan that ties all of the U.S. and [South] Korean flying squadrons together under training events," said Capt. Sean "Stogi" Penrod, a weapons officer for the 51st Fighter Wing, the host unit here.