During peacetime, the Hankook Kong Gon (Republic of Korea Air Force, or RoKAF) constantly keeps an eye on the enemy and maintains a high level of combat readiness at all times, which allows it to immediately retaliate against the enemy should it launch provocations. During war, the tasks of the air force are: to acquire air superiority and thus prevent the enemy from flying to neutralize the enemy's will by destroying its main and potential war power; and supporting the ground and naval forces' operations.
Korea can trace its aviation heritage back to 1922 when An Chang-nam became the first Korean pilot to fly in his country's air space. Military aviation started about the same time. Korean expatriates desiring to support the independence movement in their homeland went through flight training at aviation schools in other countries. Korea's first six military pilots received their training in Curtiss JN-4s in 1920 at the Redwood flight school in northern California."
The original aircraft of the South Korean Air Force were discarded aircraft that were left behind by the Japanese after the war. The Japanese had simply laid down their arms at the end of the war and walked away. By force of circumstance, this "new" nation had to develop an air force from scratch at the end of the war.
As the communist forces of North Korea strengthened their airpower with Soviet equipment and as US forces withdrew from the peninsula in June 1949, South Korea asked for more military aid, including fighter aircraft. The United States denied the request to avoid increasing tensions in the region. Republic of Korea President Lee Seung-Man went about finding other avenues for procuring military hardware to respond to the North Korean military build up.
Since 1974, the ROK Air Force has spent more than 20 percent of the total defense procurement budget. One of the most significant projects has been the Korea Fighter Program, which was the ROKAF's program for developing its own advanced fighter planes. By the 1980s the air force operated aircraft equipped with precision-guided munitions and long-range air-to-air missiles. It also has a joint air-ground-sea operation system that provides close air support for ground and naval forces. The air force supported army counterinsurgency programs with twenty-three Cessna A-37 aircraft, used as forward air controllers, but which could also be used in ground attack. Eight Northrop F-5s and twelve McDonnell Douglas F-4s were equipped solely for reconnaissance. A total of fifteen Bell UH-1B and UH1H helicopters were available for search-and-rescue operations.
During the 1980s, the air force modernization program focused primarily on the formation and deployment of twelve new fighter aircraft squadrons and the establishment of an automated air defense network. In December 1989, the Ministry of National Defense selected the McDonnell Douglas FA-18 to be the second United Statesdesigned fighter aircraft to be coproduced in South Korea. Samsung's aerospace division was awarded a contract to manufacture the airframe and engine; Lucky-Goldstar became the subcontractor for the aircraft's avionics. McDonnell Douglas agreed to deliver twelve FA-18s to the South Korean air force in 1993 and to assist Samsung with the later assembly of 108 aircraft in South Korea. As of 1990, the entire FA-18 program was under review because of increased costs. Korean Air used its depot maintenance facilities at Kimhae to overhaul most types of aircraft in service with the South Korean air force. Additionally, the United States Air Force contracted with Korean Air for the maintenance of its F-4, F-15, A-10, and C-130 aircraft stationed in South Korea, Japan, and the Philippines.
The F-16 provided South Korea with an aircraft believed to be technologically superior to similarly designed communist aircraft, including the Soviet-produced MiG-29, the most sophisticated aircraft employed by the North Korean air force. South Korea-United States coproduction of F-5 aircraft demonstrated the resolve of South Korean military planners to promote a defense industry that simultaneously utilized advanced United States technology while enhancing indigenous efforts both at establishing an aviation industry and increasing access to Western technology.
The Defense Ministry planned an ambitious defense improvement program that includes a next-generation fighter program, purchases of attack helicopters, surface-to-air missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles. Among the candidates for the fighter project were Rafale of France, Eurofighter being produced by a European consortium, F-15 of the US and Russia's Sukhoi-35. The Ministry of Industry and Resources, the aerospace industry, the Ministry of Finance and Economy, and even the Ministry of National Defense favored the continuation of the F-16 for budgetary and industrial policy reasons. But the ROK Air Force called for foreign acquisition of a next generation fighter. After fierce bureaucratic battles, both parties reached a compromise in which production of a limited number of F-16s and foreign acquisition of a next generation fighter were to be simultaneously pursued without undercutting the air force budget.
In 2002 South Korea agreed to accept Kamov Ka-32 search and rescue helicopters and Ilyushin Il-103 basic trainers as part of a wider arms deal to partially offset Russia's near-$2 billion outstanding debt to the Asian country. The first of seven Ka-32A-04 was delivered on June 22, 2004 to the 235 SRS at Cheongju, replacing the UH-1N. These Ka-32's, locally known as HH-32, were produced by the Kumertau Aviation Production Enterprise and bought by the South Korean firm LGI.
Several new programs started in 2004. The VHX competition for three large VIP helicopters worth $113 million resulted in an award on 06 May 2005 for three S-92s with deliveries to be completed in 2007. Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation delivered three S-92 helicopters to the Korean Air Force, at a handover ceremony held during the ongoing Seoul Air Show in October 2007. The long-simmering E-X project was revived, and the Boeing 737-700 IGW Wedgetail AEW&C was selected in 2006.
Most South Korean aircraft have been supplied by the USA and their insignia reflected this, with a red and blue yin-yang symbol replacing the U.S. white star. During the Korean War most ROKAF aircraft carried a large black 'K' on the fin. In April 2005 the ROKAF introduced a new roundel, with three black lines each side of the yin-yang symbol replacing the US style side bars, to more closely resemble the national flag.
The Defence Reform Plan was submitted by the Ministry of National Defence to President Roh Moo Hyun on 01 September 2005. While the Army would be most heavily affected by the plan, the ROKAF strength would remain unchanged at 65,000. The The plan included a 27% reduction in regular forces from 68,100 in 2005 to 500,000 in 2020. The army was to be cut by 32% to 371,000 from the current 548,000. Naval forces would be reduced slightly from 68,000 to 64,000.
The inventory of the KAF will be reinforced with 40 F-15Ks from 2005 to 2008, together with 170 F-16Ks. In addition, 94 T/A-50s, as light-combat aircraft, will be delivered to the KAF. According the long-term procurement plan released on 09 January 2006, the KAF aimed to operate 420 fighter aircraft in 2018. The KAF planned to look for a further 40 F-X fighters [for a total of 80] and deploy 40 next-generation Korean Fighters (KF-X) at the same time.
In April 2008 it was reported that the South Korean Defense Ministry had decided to buy hundreds of JASSM (Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile) class missiles. These missiles, which have a range of at least 400km, will arm the 21 additional F-15Ks that S. Korea is buying from Boeing. There was speculation in the local media, that the government is buying these missiles in order to expand its options when it came to targeting N. Korean nuclear facilities.
In September 2005 the United States turned down a bid from South Korea to buy cutting-edge high-altitude"Global Hawk" unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from the country. By early 2007 Russia was leading the opposition to the sale to South Korea of US unmanned aerial vehicles. South Korea sought to purchase four RQ-4 Global Hawk UAVs from the United States during the annual meeting of defense ministers to be held in Seoul on 06 November 2007. In August 2008 it was reported that South Korea can buy Global Hawk unmanned planes, despite the Missile Technology Control Regime, that was previously thought to block any such transactions. South Korea learned about the possibility during high-level security discussions 23 July 2008 in Washington. However, whether the costly system is still in South Korea's plans to upgrade its military technology hadn't been decided.
Under Defense Reform 2020, the 15-year military modernization program announced in 2005, the ROK Air Force will develop a structure suitable for air superiority and precision strike by constantly keeping a watchful eye over the enemy and maintaining a high-level combat readiness posture for immediate response, such as retaliatory strikes at peace time. The mission of the Air Force during war is to achieve air superiority and provide support for ground and naval operations, while securing the military operational capabilities throughout the Korean Peninsula. In order to enhance air operational effectiveness, the Air Force Northern Combat Command (AFNCC) is established along with the Air Force Southern Combat Command (AFSCC), 9 Fighter Wings, Air Defense Artillery Command (ADAC), and Air Defense and Control Wing (ADCW).
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