F-16 crews soar in South Korean exercise

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Nick Wilson
  • 8th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
F-16 Fighting Falcon pilots from the 80th Fighter Squadron practiced combined flying operations March 28-31 alongside counterparts from the South Korean air force’s 19th Fighter Wing at Jungwon Air Base during Buddy Wing 16-3.

Buddy Wing training, conducted multiple times a year, polishes the ability of South Korean and U.S. pilots to train and operate as a combined force.

“These exercises certainly help you understand what the Koreans are bringing to the fight,” said Maj. Nicholas Longo, the assistant director of operations for 80th FS, based at Kunsan AB, South Korea. “We also look at the similarities and differences of tactics, strategies and technical subjects.”

Buddy Wing helps examine the similarities and bridge the gaps in understanding the differences between how things are done on both ends of the table.

“Even though our pilots have a lot of flying skills, I think it’s important to highlight that our key to success is that we’re continuing to maintain, develop and share every aspect of how we plan to defend (South Korea),” said Lt. Col. Bokman Jung, the commander of the 162nd FS at Jungwon AB. “It helps us consolidate our plans so we’re both going in the same direction in the end.”

This iteration of Buddy Wing training included two air combat maneuvering exercises, eight air interdiction exercises, 11 strike coordination and reconnaissance exercises and 14 defensive counter-air exercises.

“We always talk about fitting our host nation partners into our game plan, but they’re also fitting us into their game plan,” Longo said. “Because for us to be able to fight alongside them, we have to understand how we fit into the big picture with them.”

The 80th FS pilots were also able to communicate differences in verbiage and build on coordination techniques they use with their South Korean counterparts and ground forces.

“Even with a slight language barrier, our pilots are ready to fight tonight,” Jung said. “On the (South Korean) side, the pilots are still developing their English speaking skills. I cannot guarantee that there is no barrier between (South Korean and U.S. forces), but we are narrowing down those gaps. It’s narrow enough to be able to perform combined missions.”

Getting to know South Korean pilots on a personal level was also instrumental to enhancing communication and the understanding of each other's culture.

“Almost everything we worked on stemmed from the focal point of communication,” Longo said. “If there was a breakdown there, then we had a hard time moving forward. However, as the week progressed, we’ve started to see the communication gap narrow as we get on the same page.”

Not only did the Buddy Wing training strengthen relationships, but it also enabled U.S. and South Korean pilots to further solidify their skills in air combat.

“We really appreciate the patience, friendship and devotion to the mission that the U.S. pilots bring to the table,” Jung said. “We are the edge of the sword, so we have to always prepare to fight with the enemy. Through our combined Buddy Wing training, we have opportunities to sharpen that sword.”