Suspension of US, South Korean Exercises Hasn’t Impacted USAF Readiness, for Now

USAF maintainers get ready to prepare an F-15C Eagle for takeoff on Dec. 5, 2017, at Gwangju Air Base, Republic of Korea during Exercise Vigilant Ace-18. Air Force photo by A1C Kristen Heller.

The continued suspension of large-scale exercises with South Korea hasn’t created “immediate” concerns about a degradation of readiness of both US and South Korean forces, but in the future it could create “difficulties” that may need to be addressed in other methods of training, Pacific Air Forces Commander Gen. Charles Q. Brown said Monday.

Brown, speaking with reporters at the Pentagon, said the readiness of US and South Korean forces were at a “high water mark” before the June summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, which resulted in a suspension of large-scale exercises such as Vigilant Ace and Foal Eagle.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Republic of Korea Minister of National Defense Jeong Kyeong-doo agreed last week that exercises need to be “conducted in a manner that complements diplomatic efforts to achieve North Korea’s denuclearization while sustaining the readiness of US and ROK military forces,” the Pentagon announced. Future exercises are under review, including possible changes to their “size and scope.”

Brown said Monday the Air Force and South Korea are able to exercise in other ways, which is “different than we originally planned,” including smaller exercises such as Red Flag-Alaska and local training at bases such as Osan and Kunsan Air Bases.

PACAF continues to plan exercises up until “we get the guidance” that they are suspended, Brown said.

There has been a change in other regular operations as well, Brown said. For example, USAF bombers deployed to the Pacific for the continuous bomber presence have not been flying to the Korean Peninsula and have not been integrating with the Republic of Korea Air Force “for now,” he said.

The last reported bomber mission to South Korea happened last summer when two B-1s flew a 10-hour, sequenced mission alongside South Korean F-15s, Japanese F-2s, and USAF F-16s in July 2017, dropping inert weapons at the Pilsung Range in South Korea. A show of force followed a North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile test.