Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Instead of A-10s, F-16s now selected to temporarily replace AH-64s in South Korea

By Joachim Jacob

(Updated 15 January 2009)

In late 2008, the United States had planned to send 12 A-10 Thunderbolt IIs to the Republic of Korea to temporarily replace U.S. Army AH-64 Apache attack helicopters bound for Iraq and Afghanistan. But both sides changed that plan because of required maintenance for the A-10 aircraft, U.S. and South Korean military officials announced today during a news conference at South Korea's Ministry of National Defense in Seoul. Instead of the A-10s, 12 F-16 Fighting Falcons now will deploy.

During the news conference, 7th Air Force chief of staff Col. Mike Chandler said the change of plans is due to a structural issue with the A-10's airframe. Chandler said the A-10s are undergoing inspections to ensure they are airworthy, but using the F-16s in their place would not hamper USFK's close-air-support capabilities. "The air-to-ground mission and the close-air-support mission are primarily to support the soldiers on the ground," Chandler said. "Helicopters, the A-10 platform and the F-16 platform are all capable of performing that mission."

Col. Mike Chandler, left, chief of staff of the 7th Air Force, answers reporters' questions at the Ministry of National Defense in Seoul, Tuesday. He said the U.S. military plans to temporarily deploy 12 F-16 fighters to South Korea to replace departing Apache Longbow attack helicopters. At right is Col. Lee Geon-wan, chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff's air operations bureau. (Photo by Yonhap)

At least in my eyes, the reason for this important change of aircraft types must be clearly related to ongoing problems with inspections and repairs on A-10s due to wing cracks which resulted in large-scale partial A-10 groundings since October last year. But it's still unknown to me which A-10 unit was originally slated to deploy to South Korea for this replacement.

According to The Korea Times, Chandler said maintenance requirements mainly deal with structural problems with A-10 models, adding it would take a year to repair all A-10 assets. WOW! That would be in sharp contrast to previous reports which talked about a six-month time frame.

Today, on their public website United States Forces Korea (USFK) published a related press release:

F-16 Rotation to Replace Departing 1-2 ARB

Release #090113-1

The Department of Defense has approved the deployment of twelve rotational F-16 jet aircraft as a replacement for the 1-2 Attack Reconnaissance Battalion when it departs Korea in March 2009 for rotational support in the Global War on Terrorism.

The F-16s will be in place before the Apache helicopters of the 1-2 ARB depart, ensuring no gap in capability exists as this realignment occurs. Due to increased requirements for inspections and repairs to the A-10 fleet, the F-16s will be deployed rotationally to Korea instead of the previously announced A-10 rotation.

The F-16 is a multi-role fighter capable of conducting a broad range of missions, including close air support, precision strike and counter-air. It provides added capability in targeting, precision munitions, detection, and defensive measures.

"The F-16's combat-proven record is well known and will provide an enhanced deterrent capability on the Korean Peninsula," said General Walter Sharp, Commander of U.S. Forces in Korea. "This deployment also increases Republic of Korea-United States training opportunities, which further strengthen Combined Forces Command's ability to defeat any north Korean aggression."

The U.S. remains committed to the defense of the Republic of Korea and will ensure the required capabilities are deployed on and around the Korean Peninsula.

This deployment supports the Department of Defense's continued commitment to maintain the force level of 28,500 on the peninsula.

The decision to deploy the F-16s follows the announcement by USFK in November that the 1-2 ARB will re-station to Fort Carson, Colorado, after which it will join rotational deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.


On November 16, 2008, USFK had published the following press release:

DoD Approves Restationing of Apache Battalion

Release #081116-1

The Secretary of Defense has approved the restationing of one of the two Apache reconnaissance battalions currently stationed in the Republic of Korea, the 1-2 Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, in order to make the unit available for rotational deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan.

The helicopter battalion is being restationed to Fort Carson, Colorado.

Twelve A-10 jet aircraft will be sent to Korea in March 2009 to temporarily replace the departing Apache battalion. The replacement A-10 attack aircraft will provide greater responsiveness, longer range, larger precision munitions, greater options for ordnance employment, greater survivability and increased interdiction capability compared to the departing AH-64 Apache Longbow aviation helicopter.

The additional deployment of an MH-53 helicopter detachment to Korea during FY09, along with added U2 capability, will enhance the overall military capability on the Korean peninsula.

"Our capability to protect the Republic of Korea is not diminished," said Lt. Gen. Joseph Fil, Eighth U.S. Army commander. "The U.S. remains fully committed to the defense of the Republic of Korea and the overall security and stability of the region."

As the Secretary of Defense and Minister of National Defense reconfirmed at the October 17th Security Consultative Meeting, the U.S. will maintain the current U.S. force level of about 28,500 in the Republic of Korea.

The Army's plan to restation 1-2 ARB at Ft. Carson in March 2009 is both operationally and family focused. It will allow the unit to stabilize its soldiers and family members, preset organizational equipment, and provide an opportunity to train for operations in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom prior to its operational deployment in the Fall 2009.

The battalion has an authorized personnel strength of about 500 Soldiers.

The U.S. Embassy made official host nation notification on Saturday. Also on Saturday, the unit chain of command notified Soldiers and family members about the unit move.


Related news media coverage:
F-16s replace departing Apache helo unit (Stars and Stripes, 14 January 2009)
US to send 12 F-16 fighter jets to SKorea (International Herald Tribune, 13 January 2009)
USFK Flip-Flops Over Replacement of Apaches (The Korea Times, 13 January 2009)
U.S. to replace Apaches with F-16s (The Korea Herald, 13 January 2009)
US to deploy F-16s in S.Korea (The Straits Times, 13 January 2009)
U.S. to send 12 F-16s to South Korea (Air Force Times, 13 January 2009)

Some background info:
7th Air Force, headquartered at Osan AB, Republic of Korea, is one of Pacific Air Forces (PACAF's) major units. 7th Air Force has two wings: the 8th Fighter Wing 'Wolfpack', located at Kunsan AB, and the 51st Fighter Wing 'Mustangs', located at Osan AB. The 8th FW operates F-16C/Ds (35th Fighter Squadron 'Pantons' and 80th Fighter Squadron 'Juvats'). The 51st FW operates A-10s (25th Fighter Squadron 'Assam Draggins') and F-16C/Ds (36th Fighter Squadron 'Fiends' - also called 'Flying Fiends').

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