By Jung Sung-ki
South Korea and the United States kicked off a joint air force training exercise Friday to increase interoperability among the airmen of the two allies.
About 50 fighter jets, including F-15Ks and KF-16s from South Korea as well as F-16 Fighting Falcons and KC-135 Stratotankers from the U.S., are participating in the eight-day drill, the South Korean Air Force said in a news release.
More than 250 pilots from the allies will be mobilized for the drill, named "Max Thunder," to be staged over the western airspace of the Korean Peninsula, it said.
"This air readiness exercise is aimed at allowing airmen to practice war-fighting skills in realistic combat situations," said the release.
In particular, this year's exercise will focus on deterring and defeating a potential air strike from North Korea, following the March 26 sinking of the warship Cheonan blamed on the communist country, Air Force officials said. North Korea denies any responsibility in the sinking of the frigate that claimed the lives of 46 sailors.
"Throughout the exercise, the allies' air forces plan to test their ability to immediately counter an enemy's provocations within the rules of engagement," said an official at the Air Force.
The exercise is also partly aimed at preparing the joint forces for a larger joint exercise, the annual Red Flag Nellis, according to the statement.
Currently, some 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea as a deterrent to threats from North Korea.