KUNSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea — Exercise VIGILANT ACE 18 is underway across the Korean Peninsula and the Wolf Pack’s F-16 Fighting Falcons, better known as Vipers, play host to the fifth-generation Joint Strike Fighter, the F-35A Lightning II, at the historic 8th Fighter Wing, Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea.
The Vipers and Lightings began training side-by-side last week in preparation for the F-35’s first integration into the week-long, annual flying exercise, and launched their first flights for VIGILANT ACE on Dec. 4.
Currently forward deployed to Kadena AB, Japan from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, U.S. Air Force Airmen and F-35s from the 34th and 466th Fighter Squadrons employ the newest and most advanced fighter aircraft in air battle scenarios with a variety of airframes from equally diverse points in modern aviation history.
“This is a great opportunity for some of our younger pilots to fly with our more experienced guys, as well as join in with the Wolf Pack and the rest of the air assets out here participating in VIGILANT ACE,” said Lt. Col. Dave DeAngelis, 466th FS commander. “Having the F-35 here on peninsula during this exercise, which is intended to test the combined air picture, validates our ability to jump into the fight at a moment’s notice and support forces in the region.”
The regularly scheduled flying exercise features more than 230 aircraft with U.S. and Republic of Korea Air Force personnel working alongside each other, comparable to participation from previous years’ iterations. In terms of geographic scope, U.S. units from Japan, Guam, and Alaska are participating in the realistic air combat exercise with ROKAF units at eight U.S. and Korean military installations across the southern portion of the peninsula – enhancing the combat effectiveness of all involved in the air battle.
“Every day at the Wolf Pack we’re able to project power across the peninsula with one of the world’s most versatile and capable aircraft,” said Col. David Shoemaker, 8th Fighter Wing commander. “The Viper is a workhorse, not only for us, but also for many other nations, to include the ROKAF. Our ability to train and fight as a cohesive force is as important as it ever has been in the past six decades.”
Through various simulated scenarios developed by exercise planners, the 2,700 Airmen stationed at Kunsan verify their ability to support U.S. Forces Korea contingency operations by launching combat jets to take the fight north, defend the base from potential hostile forces and accept follow-on forces from U.S. bases around the region.
“During my three tours here at Kunsan, we’ve had a similar approach to our readiness in terms of how we exercise,” said Shoemaker. “It’s natural for us to develop and evolve as a force, and that’s what we’re doing now by bringing fifth-generation assets into the fold. We’re simply adding a new dynamic to the air component and how we maintain peace on the peninsula.”
In addition to the six U.S. Air Force F-35As supplementing the contingent of F-16s here and other U.S. and ROK forces already on the peninsula, 12 U.S. Marine Corps F-35Bs, six U.S. Air Force F-22s, U.S. Navy aircraft and other aircraft in the region are also participating in VIGILANT ACE. The overall scale of forces helps contribute to a realistic site picture for those participating, especially with regard to air assets integrating in a war-time scenario with their support personnel and equipment.
“Our combined operations and maintenance team has been doing phenomenal out here and we appreciate all the support of the 8th FW,” said DeAngelis.
He further went on to state that because of the support, they “were able to quickly generate training sorties after [their] arrival from Japan,” ensuring a rapid employment of fifth-generation assets on the peninsula.
Previously known as Beverly Bulldog, VIGILANT ACE enables both nations’ training programs and fulfills obligations to the Mutual Defense Treaty, furthering the longstanding military partnership, commitment and enduring friendship between the two.