Korean Air Force fighters engage in an aerial refueling exercise with the help of the U.S. military in the country’s airspace over the West Sea last week. (Air Force)
South Korea’s Air Force is conducting an aerial refueling exercise in the country’s airspace for the first time with assistance from the U.S. military to help pilots acquire their refueling qualifications, officials said Monday.
The 15-day exercise, ending Sept. 30, is taking place in airspace over the West Sea, using the U.S. military’s KC-135 tanker, which came from its base in Okinawa. South Korea does not have any in-flight tankers yet.
The allied militaries have reached an agreement to stage the exercise every six months. For pilots to maintain their qualification, they are required to receive refueling training every six months.
Sixteen Korean pilots running F-15K or KF-16 fighter jets are participating in the exercise in which nine U.S. trainers have been mobilized to train them. The trainees are to acquire or maintain their refueling qualification after operating the tanker four times ― twice during the day and twice at night.
No refueling exercise has ever occurred in Korean airspace. In 2005, some Korean pilots received training in the process of acquiring their new F-15K fighter jets in the U.S. But they lost their qualification as they lacked regular training opportunities.
“As there were no pilots with the refueling qualification, we had to go to the trouble of making many stopovers when we were flying to other states to join an overseas joint military exercise,” said an Air Force official, declining to be named.
“If we use the refueling tanker, we can move quickly to a training site to join a large-scale joint exercise taking place in our allied countries.”
The military has been seeking to purchase its own in-flight tanker. But the efforts have been impeded by a government policy to stress efficiency in the budget execution.
The U.S. military is known to have some 530 KC-135 tankers. KC-135 with a maximum range of 5,500 kilometers can carry fuel of some 110,000 liters.
By Song Sang-ho (email@example.com