A F-22 Raptor touches down at Gwangju Air Base, Republic of Korea, Dec.02, 2017. The Raptor is assigned to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, 3rd Wing, 90th Fighter Squadron and is participating in the routine Vigilant Ace exercise. (Photo by Senior Airman Jessica Smith)
GWANGJU AIR BASE, South Korea -- Over the last week, U.S. and Republic of Korean Forces across South Korea participated in an annual bilateral exercise, Vigilant Ace-18. The exercise focuses on interoperability within the alliance between the United States Air Force and ROK Air Force.
Although this is an annual exercise, two major differences this year were the participation of fifth-generation aircraft and the standing up of Gwangju Air Base. Despite the fifth-generation fighters being new to the ROKAF, and the challenges of creating a fully functional collocated operating base, the exercise still went off without a hitch.
“We have learned a lot of the limitations that are here currently and how to work around them, said Maj. Joshua Ramirez, director of inspections, 18th Wing, Kadena AB, Japan. “Obviously we don’t have all of the comforts of home here – that includes equipment and personnel, we found very creative ways to get around that stuff and still get jets in the air.”
With U.S. military units from all over coming together as one team, including Alaska, Japan and the Republic of Korea, Vigilant Ace-18 allows the USAF to employ the agility of airpower away from home stations as well as an opportunity to get to know our ROKAF counterpart’s capabilities.
“In order for us to really be able to project the force that we need, we really have to come together and learn how to work together and understand what each base brings to the fight,” Ramirez said. “It gets them to see how we do things and it gets us to see how they would do things and find a common ground to make it a unified front.“
While the exercise has a heavy emphasis on air power and deterrence, it’s also about building relationships.
“Specifically with our ROKAF partners, it allows us to continue to strengthen and build the alliance which ultimately is the key to deterrence and keeping the peace on the peninsula,” explained Brig. Gen. Case Cunningham, commander, 18th Wing, Kadena AB, Japan. ”That opportunity is incredibly important for us.”
Maximizing interoperability and partnership, was tested first-hand when a snowstorm resulted in aircraft unexpectedly landing at Gwangju AB.
“For this skeleton crew that we have – compared to what we have back home – to be able to catch all those personnel would have been impossible,” Ramirez said. “The ROKAF stepped up like champions and they were out there catching planes, helping us make sure everybody was safe on the ground so there were no accidents or incidents with the aircraft.”
Experiences like this re-emphasize the importance of continuously training with our counterparts.
“I believe there’s always something to learn – how to be good teammates and partners – but also how to be prepared if called upon to hit the ground running,” said Chief Master Sgt. Michael Ditore, command chief, 18th Wing, Kadena AB, Japan.
Building bonds amongst the participants can foster a sense of trust between the different units involved.
“It’s always about relationships; we’re going to continue to develop and build those relationships so that when it does come time – if needed – to work together, we’re not strangers,” Ditore said. “It gives them both the confidence and trust in us to show what true professionals we are, that we’re here for them for the long run.”
Trust is equally important in the operational aspect of the exercise. With so many players involved, one has to be able to count on the person working along side them for a successful mission to be pulled off.
“I think we performed outstanding; we did great,” Ramirez said. “Bumps and bruises along the way, but overall we learned a lot, we overcame and we did what we were supposed to do. It was great to have everybody do their part and see what they can learn from this exercise.”