KUNSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- If called upon to take the fight north, the Wolf Pack would not go it alone.
As a part of a combined force, the U.S. and Republic of Korea air forces on the peninsula would need to execute combat operations as a singular and fluid force. Because of this, they practice together to remain proficient in their deadly mission, should they ever be called to conduct it.
Since 2013, both nations have worked to enhance their focus through the 7th Air Force initiated program dubbed Buddy Wing, in which U.S. Air Force and ROKAF Airmen flight-plan and fly together to achieve shared proficiency in the skies above Korea.
Red Flag Origins
Buddy Wings are week-long training exercises in which U.S. Air Force and ROKAF units integrate to perform a variety of tactical flying missions in support of larger combat operations. The program began four years ago when the U.S. helped prepare the ROKAF for their inaugural participation in RED FLAG - Alaska.
Since its inception, the program has continued to evolve, encompassing the full spectrum of combat training and operations while rotating locations between different U.S. and ROK bases across the peninsula.
“In 2013, we created the building blocks or basic structure for the program” said Col. Steven Tittel, 8th Fighter Wing vice commander. “Now that we have moved past the program’s initial vision, we are able to seamlessly integrate increasing levels of complexity in our combined training.”
Building Muscle Memory
Due to continued training repetition, each iteration of the Buddy Wing exercise provides pilots and mission planners greater potential for interaction between aircrew and aircraft capabilities.
"During my first tour here as a Lieutenant with the Pantons, almost twenty years ago, we didn’t have this type of integration,” said Tittel. “We generally flew in our assigned airspace, and the ROKAF flew in theirs, unless there was a peninsula-wide exercise. Now we are putting jets in the same piece of sky to integrate our capabilities, in order achieve tactical objectives that will support performing our wartime tasks. We’ve come a long way in terms of our pilots working together.”
Since one of the key objectives to the Buddy Wing program is pilot integration during combat, it’s important that members at the tactical level experience the benefits as well.
“We are bridging the language and culture gaps more and more each year,” said Capt. Ryan Clisset, 35th FW instructor pilot. “We learn and grow together. Eventually we can get to a point where we can speak the same language and know each other’s tactics.”
Expanding the Sight Picture
Coming together to train between the US and ROK Air Forces isn’t the only way the Buddy Wing Program evolved on the Korean Peninsula. In addition to the primary host residing with Osan Air Base, ROK in the beginning and now rotating between various U.S. and ROK air bases, the program also tests out each units’ abilities to logistically support Buddy Wings.
“This constant rotation helps us to overcome the logistic challenges involved with supporting an exercise,” Tittel added. “Constantly adding new units to the picture also helps us propagate tactical expertise across the entire combined force”
And, with ever evolving adjustments and improvements based on the results of the previous exercise, more and more units may soon participate in the training.
The experience gained from training with ROKAF during the Buddy Wing exercises comes at a very low relative cost. The program is easily planned, doesn’t require excessive amounts of manpower from the parties involved and helps amplify regularly scheduled training for the Wolf Pack and other units.
“We’re in sustainability mode right now,” said Tittel. “The program is very flexible and the payoff-to-effort ratio for everyone involved is as high as any other exercise on the Peninsula.”