US F/A-18 fighters conduct precision strike exercises
By Jung Sung-ki
Outgoing Defense Minister Kim Tae-young said Monday that fighter jets and warships of South Korean and U.S. forces will immediately strike North Korean targets should the North launch an attack on the South’s soil again.
Kim’s remarks at a parliamentary session came as the allies were conducting high-profile naval and air strike drills in waters off Taean, about 170 kilometers southwest of Seoul, on the second day of a four-day joint exercise.
“Once the rules of engagement are revised, the Navy and Air Force will be allowed to conduct strikes (on North Korean targets),” Kim said at the National Assembly’s Budget and Account Committee meeting.
“We had viewed the North’s landing operations as the most serious threat to the islands near the sea border,” Kim said. “This was the first time that the North had attacked with its artillery, and I admit that we were unprepared for such a provocation.”
“As we suffered a surprise attack, we’ll come up with firm defense measures and will not allow any more provocations by the North,” said the outgoing defense minister who will be replaced by Kim Kwan-jin, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The defense minister-nominee is to undergo a parliamentary hearing in the coming weeks.
The joint exercise by the South Korean and U.S. militaries moved into full swing with a focus on U.S. fighter jets’ air-to-air combat, and air-to-ground precision-guided strikes against simulated North Korean aircraft and artillery sites near the Northern Limit Line (NLL), the volatile sea border between the two Koreas, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said.
F-18 Hornet aircraft from the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington conducted live-ammunition surgical strike exercises with allied warships, including South Korea’s Sejong the Great Aegis destroyer, a JCS official said.
“During an air defense simulation drill, our fighter aircraft defeated enemy aircraft infiltrating our territory and subsequently conducted precision strikes on ground targets in the North,” the official said. “Enemy aircraft were also intercepted by our advanced ship-to-air missiles.”
Approximately 80 U.S. aircraft participated in the exercises. They included F/A-18E/F Super Hornet strike fighters, F/A-18A/C Hornet fighters, E-2C Hawkeye early warning aircraft, EA-6B electronic warfare aircraft and SH-60 Seahawk helicopters.
The U.S. Air Force was flying a JSTARS surveillance aircraft to track littoral targets in North Korea, according to the JCS and Combined Forces Command.
U.S. navy ships taking part in the exercise include the guided-missile cruiser Cowpens and the guided-missile destroyers Stethem, Fitzgerald and Lassen.
The South Korean Navy deployed the 7,600-ton KDX-III Sejong the Great whose SPY-1D radar can track about 1,000 aircraft within a 500-kilometer radius simultaneously, 4,500-ton KDX-II destroyers, frigates and support ships, as well as P3-C maritime patrol aircraft and anti-submarine Lynx helicopters.
The Air Force dispatched F-15K and KF-16 aircraft for the exercise.