America has close to 30,000 military personnel deployed to the Korean Peninsula, still holding the line alongside their South Korean counterparts from a stalemate of a war that officially never ended over 60 years ago. Part of this force includes USAF F-16s and A-10s spread across two bases and the 2nd Aviation Regiment’s Apache, Chinook and Black Hawk helicopters.
In many ways, all these American aviation units face the possibility of full-scale war at any moment, with the reality of artillery shells raining down by the thousands from the North and shock troopers being sent deep behind enemy lines to cause havoc with South Korean and U.S. combat operations a palpable possibilit. It is truly life at the “tip of the spear,” and as such, some of the most realistic and intensive training available is executed by U.S. aircrews deployed to South Korea.
Beyond the ever-present threat from the North, which has only grown increasingly unpredictable as that country deals with the ongoing succession of its new and very young dictator Kim Jong Un, American forces deployed to South Korea are also part of a large strategic pivot toward the Pacific outlined by the Pentagon and the Obama Administration.
China in particular, with its extra territorial claims and more belligerent use of its growing military, make South Korea a key outpost as part of this new strategy, along with U.S. bases in Japan, Guam, Alaska and Hawaii. As such, the strategic significance of American air power deployed to the Korean Peninsula has only increased over the last decade.
With all this in mind, take an inside look at the front lines of America’s air combat capability in South Korea in the following 75 stunning photos. Taken by Defense Department photographers, these photographs show the power, beauty, and challenges that American flyers stationed south of the Demilitarized Zone experience everyday.