OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- Team Osan is hosting a Combat Search and Rescue Training event. Formerly known as Pacific Thunder, the training is a semiannual joint coalition training for not only the Korean Theater of Operations, but Pacific Air Forces as a whole.
The focus of the training event is to maximize integration while taking advantage of the unique opportunity presented to practice Personnel Recovery (PR) operations with a full spectrum of experience levels and assets.
“Combat Search and Rescue is an extremely important mission set from a strategic, tactical and moral point of view,” said Lt. Col. Zach Hughes, 25th Fighter Squadron commander. “Strategically, because any captured friendly personnel represent a potential propaganda or intelligence windfall for an adversary. Tactically, because aircrew are more confident accepting risky and dangerous mission sets when they know someone has their back if things go badly. Morally, because America has always pledged to bring home all of her service members.”
While there are many different methods of joint Personnel Recovery, Combat Search and Rescue is the United States Air Force’s specialty. It is fast, aggressive and involves snatching isolated personnel behind enemy lines before they can be located and captured, according to Hughes.
“It is an extremely difficult, dangerous mission set that is nearly impossible to conduct if it hasn’t been trained for,” said Hughes. “PR is nothing new, but Combat Search and Rescue in its current form really only came of age in the Vietnam War. Downed U.S. aviators were of huge propaganda value to the North Vietnamese, so entire task forces were dedicated to recovering these aviators. Some hard lessons came out of the Vietnam War.”
Throughout the event, those participating will have the opportunity to undergo various training scenarios. These scenarios will include both ground and air components.
“Some of the scenarios allow us to expose our less experienced pilots to combat situations where they are truly the only people who can shape the battlefield and, ultimately, bring the Isolated Personnel (IP) home,” said Capt. Bradley Jones, 25th Fighter Squadron A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot. “Other scenarios simulate a near-peer conflict where we have to establish air superiority, roll back the Integrated Air Defense System (IADS) and present the Combat Search and Rescue Task Force the opportunity to bring our people home.
“No matter what scenario we’re using, it reinforces the contract the Combat Search and Rescue community holds with all service members and our partner nations. If you find yourself behind enemy lines, keep your chin up and keep fighting because we’ll move heaven and earth to bring you home.”
Joint exercises with the Korean Combat Search and Rescue counterparts bring about their own complications. Communication can be difficult across different languages and cultures, and clear communication can make all the difference in an emergency situation.
“For Combat Search and Rescue specifically, in any situations when an aircraft gets shot down and there’s a surviving air crew, ‘speed is life’,” said Hughes. “The longer an individual is stuck behind enemy lines, the more likely they are to get captured, even if they do everything right. When you’re surrounded by an enemy, bad luck can happen. As soon as we have the criteria met and assets in place, we’re going to try and rescue any isolated personnel as soon as possible. Generally speaking, faster is better. All of that to say that when you’re behind enemy lines, you’re just as happy to get hoisted to safety by a Korean helicopter as an American one. The ROK is entirely capable of playing that role and playing it well.”