"An A-10C Thunderbolt II aircraft sits in a hangar at Osan[= Songtan] Air Base, Gyeonggi Province, in this file photo taken on March 3. / Courtesy of U.S. 7th Air Force"
[Exclusive] USFK Deploys New Jets for Precision Strikes
By Jung Sung-ki
A U.S. Air Force squadron in South Korea has deployed three new A-10 ground attack jet aircraft capable of carrying precision - guided bombs, which can be used to neutralize North Korean artillery units hidden in mountain caves and tunnels near the inter-Korean border, a source at the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) said Friday.
The move comes as the USFK has been pushing to modernize its air assets on the Korean Peninsula ahead of the planned transition of wartime operational control of South Korean forces from the United States to South Korea in 2012.
The USFK has pledged it will shift to a naval and air-centric supporting role after 2012, relinquishing most of the ground troops' command-and-control to Korean commanders.
According to the source, the three jets arrived at the 25th Fighter Squadron of the 51st Fighter Wing in Osan, about 35 kilometers south of Seoul, on March 3 to replace retiring older A-10A planes. Two more A-10Cs will land at Osan Air Base soon, the source said.
"Their arrival marks the beginning of the end for the transformation of the A-10 fleet," the source told The Korea Times. "The new jets' enhanced capability will provide lethal, precision firepower in any potential close air support scenario."
The A-10 Thunderbolt II is a single-seat, twin-engine, straight-wing aircraft developed in the early 1970s. It was designed to provide close air support to ground forces by attacking tanks, armored vehicles and other ground targets with a limited air interdiction capability.
Last year, the U.S. Air Force announced a plan to replace hundreds of older aircraft, including the A-10, with upgraded versions or brand new planes in stages over the next few decades. The A-10 will be replaced in 2028 or later.
For USFK's operations, the A-10 is a key air asset, along with the F-16 fleet, in deterring a potential North Korean invasion. Some 20 A-10As are assigned to the Osan Air Base.
The A-10 has been upgraded since 2005 to the C model, which includes a new data link, a new flight computer, new glass cockpit displays and controls, improved fire control system and electronic countermeasures.
The modified variant, in particular, can carry smart weapons, such as the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) and Wind Corrected Munitions Dispensor.
The JDAM is a satellite-guided bomb capable of making accurate and high-precision strikes in any weather. It has a range of 24 kilometers and can strike within 13 meters of its target. The bomb can penetrate up to 2.4 meters of concrete.
The older A-10, armed with the AGM-65 Maverick air-to-surface missile, the AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missile and cluster bombs, is not able to conduct accurate bombing due to a lack of high-end weapon control systems.
The A-10C has an integrated targeting pod, such as the North Grumman LITENING targeting pod or the Lockheed Martin Sniper XR Advanced Targeting Pod, and a remotely operated video enhanced receiver that provides sensor data to personnel on the ground.