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No Bomb Range, No Pilots Says U.S.

Posted September. 23, 2006 03:55,   


On September 21, Lieutenant General Garry Trexler, commander of the U.S. 7th Air Force, participated in the “Gyeonggi Forum for the 21st Century” held in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province. In his lecture at the forum, he said, “U.S. Air Force will move out of the Korean peninsula unless the problem concerning the construction of a firing range is resolved within 30 days.”

By mentioning the possibility of his aircrew moving out of South Korea, Trexler effectively delivered an ultimatum which reflects the U.S. authorities’ wish to see the issue solved before the next annual Korea-U.S. Security Consultative Meeting (SCM) scheduled for October 20 in Washington.

In mid-August, the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) sent an official notice to the Ministry of National Defense that it has no choice but to move overseas for training if the firing range issue is not properly dealt with by October.

Since the closedown of the Maehyang-ri range in Gyeonggi Province, U.S. Air Force pilots have shared the Jikdo shooting range in Gunsan, South Jeolla Province with the Korean Air Force. However, the U.S. pilots say that they need more training and a Weapons Impact Scoring Set (WISS) for more accurate evaluation of their training results.

Accordingly, the U.S. Air Force pilots fly some of their fighter jets, including A-10 Thunderbolts, outside the country to training sites in Thailand and Okinawa, Japan for more aerial training.

Some raise concern that a delayed resolution of the problem may create a security vacuum in the USFK because fighter jets more critical to the military capabilities of the USFK such as F-16s are more likely to fly out of the country for training.

To prevent a security vacuum on the Korean peninsula, the Ministry of National Defense plans to assign more training time to U.S. aircrew and seek permission of the Gunsan authorities for the construction of the WISS before the opening of the SCM in October. But the plan has run into a strong resistance from the Gunsan authorities and civic groups.

If the resistance does not weaken, the Ministry of National Defense reportedly will press forward with the WISS construction without the permission of Gunsan by transferring its ownership of the shooting range to the Korea Forest Service.

An official from the ministry said, “We’re running out of time. So we are trying to find a way to start the WISS construction before the SCM at the latest. We are in discussion with the Gunsan authorities, civic groups and local residents.”