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U.S.-Korean Airpower Team Defends ‘Freedom’s Frontier’

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea, Oct. 3, 2013 – South Korea historically has been called the “Land of the Morning Calm,” but a hill at this combat-ready air base reminds airmen and soldiers here that the calm can shatter at a moment’s notice, and they have to be ready to respond.

It was prosaically called Hill 180, but in U.S. Army legend it is now Bayonet Hill. On Feb. 7, 1951, Army Capt. Lewis Millet’s Company E of the 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, was attacking a North Korean-Chinese force dug in at the top of Hill 180.

The U.S. attack slowed and one of Millet’s platoons was pinned down. The captain ordered fixed bayonets and led a charge up the hill. The U.S. soldiers routed the enemy force.

Millet received the Medal of Honor for his actions that day. It was the last bayonet charge by the U.S. Army.

The monument to this extraordinary act is in the backyard of 51st Fighter Wing commander and Air Force Col. Brook Leonard’s on-base home. It is a typical backyard with his kids’ bikes stacked neatly outside the back door.

But airmen and soldiers at the base can look to this hill and understand that the same threat that visited death and destruction on what is now an idyllic scene, remains.

Just down from the crest of Bayonet Hill is the headquarters of the 7th Air Force and its Combined Air Operations Center.

The mission of the command is “to deter aggression and maintain the armistice, defend the Republic of Korea, and defeat any attack against the alliance,” said Air Force Lt. Gen. Jan-Marc Jouas, 7th Air Force commander. “We mean it when we say we have to be ready to fight tonight, because North Korean airspace is just five minutes away.”

His command would fight the air war, should the North Korean regime make the mistake of ordering an attack on South Korea.

Jouas leads a joint team – meaning he commands troops from the other American services – and a combined team, meaning service members of the South Korean military are integral to the command.

The North Korean military threat is still substantial. There are more than 1.1 million North Koreans under arms. More than 70 percent of those forces are within 50 miles of the demilitarized zone. The North has more than 13,000 artillery pieces along the border, many of which can be rolled out of an underground bunker, fired and rolled back underground.

The capabilities of the North Korean conventional forces, while still substantial, have deteriorated since the end of the Cold War. Russia ended military aid to North Korea in the early 1990s. China is North Korea’s only ally, and the Chinese have cut military aid and are channeling food aid to North Korea. Their tanks, armored personnel carriers, and even trucks, are older and less capable, especially when compared to what American and South Korean militaries have.

In the air, this means North Korea can put up a lot of aircraft – around 1,600 – but many are old and tough to maintain. North Korea flies MiG-19s, 17s, 21s and 23s. They have a few MiG-29s. “They even still fly some MiG-15s,” Jouas said. The MiG-15 was the Soviet jet fighter of the Korean War. “What they lack in quality they are trying to make up in quantity.”

And while quantity does have a capability of its own, it won’t last long should North Korea miscalculate. There are more than 650 modern aircraft in the South Korean arsenal including F-15Ks, F-16s, F-4 Phantoms, F-5s and others. In addition to the two American wings based in Korea, U.S. Navy and Marine Corps aircraft would be available. American assets based in Japan would fly sorties. Other Air Force squadrons would also deploy to Korea. “Inside of a few days, we would be flying between 2,000 and 3,000 sorties per day,” Jouas said.

There would be a lot of “heavy metal” heading north, added a 7th Air Force staff officer.

The U.S.-South Korean alliance has asymmetric advantages. The air command and control system is a singular advantage, Jouas said. This allows the allies to change targets, have air tankers in place, give pilots situational awareness and integrate intelligence, and information into the rapidly changing battle picture. Flying 3,000 sorties into airspace roughly the size of Indiana requires the type of precision and accuracy that North Korea just can’t duplicate.

The allies also have a huge advantage in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets ranging from unmanned vehicles to satellites to manned platforms, the general said.

American airmen also have 10 years of combat experience.

The North Koreans are pursuing their own asymmetric advantages, Jouas said. While the North still is funneling funds into conventional forces, more is going to develop these capabilities.

The North’s nuclear program is an asymmetric advantage. Kim Jong Un continued his father’s misguided efforts to develop a nuclear capability. Earlier this year, the North conducted an underground nuclear test. Later, they launched a satellite into orbit. Both provocations are counter to the United Nations Security Council.

The North Koreans also have more than 100,000 service members in their special operations forces and are developing cyber warfare expertise.

As these threats expand, the U.S.-South Korean alliance must change to meet them, Jouas said. The alliance will build on the Korean Air and Missile Defense system to make it more capable and responsive.

At the end of the Security Consultative Talks in Seoul yesterday, American and Korean leaders introduced a “tailored deterrence strategy against North Korean nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction threats.”

Many people call the Demilitarized Zone separating North and South Korea “Freedom’s Frontier.” Others say the peninsula is the last vestige of the Cold War.

Jouas said U.S. airmen and soldiers know the threat when they arrive in South Korea, noting that 85 percent of the enlisted airmen in his command volunteered to serve in Korea. "They are committed," he added.

And if they need a reminder, all they need to do is look up at the Hill.


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