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Radar Station on Ulleung Island Protects Korean Airspace

Radar Station on Ulleung Island Protects Korean Airspace

Posted November. 15, 2008 09:41,   


A transport helicopter carrying a Dong-A Ilbo reporter reached an Air Force radar station in the Nari Basin on Ulleung Island two hours after taking off from Osan, Gyeonggi Province, Tuesday.

Since its establishment in July 2001, the station located in the easternmost part of the Korean mainland has played a key role in protecting Korean airspace over the East Sea.

To reach the peak of Mount Cheondu (968 meters), where radar equipment is installed, a 1.3 kilometer-long cable car ride is necessary. The 12-seat cable car, which was set up to minimize environmental damage, is running on a cable linked to two 45-meter iron towers to transport soldiers and military supplies.

“We are the only soldiers in the Korean armed forces who commute by riding a cable car,” an official in the military unit said.

Upon entering a huge iron dome, booming sounds were heard from a state-of-the-art anti-aircraft radar seven meters high and weighing seven tons. On the monitors in the control room, hundreds of blips following the wake of vessels continually flickered.

With a maximum detection range of 460 kilometers, the radar is capable of detecting aircraft in airspace belonging to the Korean Air-Defense Identification Zone in the East Sea as well as that over southeastern Japan. The information is transmitted real time through optical submarine cable and satellite networks to the Master Control and Reporting Center in Osan and Daegu.

Major Kim Ju-sang said, “In the past, we relied on inland radar. But since the Ulleung radar station started operation, surveillance capability for airspace over the East Sea has markedly improved.”

When the Air Force ordered back a Japanese reconnaissance jet that approached the airspace over the Dokdo islets in 2005, the radar base played a big part by promptly sending related information.

Working conditions on Ulleung Island are poor, however. The capricious oceanic climate produces only 50 sunny days a year. The island is plagued by thunder in summer and heavy snowstorms in winter.

Early this year, the heaviest snowfall in 50 years left five soldiers stranded for five days as the cable car had to stop operations.

“Strong winds also stopped operation of the cable car. So soldiers always have an extra pair of underwear and socks in case of isolation,” said Sgt. Yeon Ung-joon in charge of the radar. “The control room on the peak of the mountain has at least 10 days worth of emergency food rations.”

Some 100 strong troops are at the station. Despite unfavorable working conditions, 80 percent of commissioned and non-commissioned officers and 50 percent of rank-and-file soldiers have volunteered to serve on Ulleung Island. One officer said, “We pride ourselves on defending our nation’s airspace at the forefront. The beautiful scenery is an added pleasure.”