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[Opinion] Target Training

Posted October. 25, 2005 07:25,   


“Top Gun” was originally the name of the training program designed to enhance the fighting ability of fighter pilots of the U.S. Navy. These days, however, the term has been established as a term for a crack pilot. Reportedly, it costs the Korean Air Force about 8.7 billion won to nurture a veteran F-16 pilot with ten years of experience. As “Top Gun” is the title of the best of the best pilots nurtured with a huge investment, it is a very honorable title.

Recently, fighter pilots of the U.S. Air Force stationed in Korea are reported to be increasingly requesting transfers to another posting. The reason is that they are concerned about possible disadvantages not only in becoming top gun but also in promotions, as they cannot fill their allocated target training sessions after the Maehyang-ri shooting range in Gyeonggi Province was closed back in August. There are some voices in Ministry of National Defense to offer the Jikdo, a small island off Gunsan, as an alternative target range. But it is unclear if the argument can be realized because of harsh opposition from local residents. This situation gives rise to concern that Korea could be labeled as a place U.S. pilots want to avoid working at.

The lack of a military target range is not just a problem of the U.S. Armed Forces stationed in Korea. The situation is also serious for the Korean Armed Forces. For years, the Army has settled for securing only 60 percent of the target range sites it needs. Moreover, increasingly sharp opposition from local people is hindering the Army from utilizing the sites it has secured for range use. So much so that the Army even proposed earlier this year: “Let’s lease target ranges from the Russian military.” If the Korean military trains in Russia, it will have to not only cover the expenses for transporting troops and equipment there, but also consider the sensitive relationship with neighboring countries, including North Korea and China.

Jeong Yak-yong, a scholar of the Joseon Dynasty, said, “It is possible that a military is not used for 100 years. But it should be prepared at all times.” It would be hard to say the Korean military is perfectly prepared for a possible battle when it has to struggle for a single target training session. The securing of target range sites should not be left as a negotiation issue between the military authorities and local community. The government should intervene and conclude the issue as soon as possible from the perspective of national strategy. This kind of issue is more urgent than an extensive military reform.

Song Moon-hong, Editorial Writer, songmh@donga.com