Koon-ni (Ko-on-ni) Range
In 2002 the United States and the Republic of Korea agreed to Land Partnership Plan (LPP) that would reshape the face of US forces on the Korean peninsula. The Koon-ni range was not included in the original 2002 agreement, but further discussions led to the decision to return the training area to the ROK. Enviornmental issues initially led the ROK to be reticient to accept the area without cleanup, but in July 2006 the ROK agreed to accept the facility without any conditions.
Koon-ni Range is located about 25 miles northwest of Osan Air Base. Ko-on-ni Range is approximately 45 minutes by road from Osan Air Base, but is still considered quite remote. The Ansong River flows from the east to west toward the West Sea and passes 3 miles northwest of the Camp Humphreys airfield. About 12 miles west of Camp Humphreys the river widens and empties into the Asan Bay, near Koon-ni Range.
The 51st Range Squadron in Koon-Ni originally managed the only controlled, fully scoreable USAF air-to-ground weapons gunnery range in Korea. It was subsequently manned by US and Korean civilian contractors. The compound was small (1 1/2 miles in size), but there was a recreation center, gym, ball courts, sauna and jacuzzi. A dining facility was also provided, which catered to requests. Ko-on-ni had an official Air Force mascot, a very friendly and much appreciated dog. During deployments to places like Pilsung, Nightmare and Koon-ni Ranges for live-fire close air support training, enlisted terminal attack controllers, or ETACs, control missions sent to them by the Air Support Operations Center. ETACs directed the air support for Army units in combat and field training exercises.
Koon-ni Range was the location for 45 to 50 percent of 7th AF bombing sorties. Due to the high turnover rate of air crews (most serving one-year tours) it was especially important for pilots to train at the basic training environment of Koon-ni Range. Before pilots could fly at the other 2 ranges (Chik-do and Pilsung), they needed to train at Koon-ni. That Koon-ni was the only fully controlled, "scorable" range available to US pilots provided another reason the training range was valuable. It was the only way to get feedback to pilots on whether or not they were doing things correctly. The range was used to train younger pilots in a safe environment with a set procedure area and to check out our aircraft in that environment, so when they would go on to the more advanced ranges, they would be prepared.
The Koon-ni Training Range is near Maehyang-ri, Hwasong. The Koon-ni Range, a coastal facility used by the US Air Force, had historically drawn noise complaints from local citizens.
Weapons with depleted uranium were not dropped at Koon-ni range despite May 2000 reports by media and private citizens. Reports about bombs labeled "BDU" provided inaccurate information. The letters "BDU," marked on the sides of bombs found at live firing ranges, are an acronym for "Bomb, Dummy Unit." BDU bombs are used for training purposes and are not high explosive, combat weapons. They are 25-pound, concrete-filled dummy units that replicate the ballistics of conventional bombs. The United States does not have depleted uranium bombs anywhere, deployed or otherwise. USFK did not have depleted uranium bombs, and had never used depleted uranium bombs at Koon-ni, nor anywhere else on the Korean Peninsula.
US Air Force jets resumed training at Koon-ni Range in June 2000 after a 37-day suspension. Seventh Air Force officials suspended training 8 May 2000, after an Osan A-10 pilot with engine problems jettisoned 6 live 500-pound bombs at Koon-ni Range in accordance with Republic of Korea and US flight safety procedures. The pilot, experiencing an engine failure, proceeded to the nearest available range, Koon-ni, and jettisoned 6 bombs into the sea as a weight reduction measure. The bombs were dropped 1,850 meters from land and 2,020 meters from the closest populated village.
After the incident, 7th AF officials suspended training at the range because villagers claimed that incident caused property damage and personal injuries. The suspension allowed a team of 10 Republic of Korea and 13 US Forces Korea representatives to conduct an inquiry into claims the incident might have injured local villagers or damaged their property. The team released its report 1 June 2000, and concluded the jettisoned bombs did not cause any injuries or property damage. Two independent Korean civilian teams validated that the incident did not cause any damages or injuries. Nearly 3,400 reports of damages to 558 houses were examined. The buildings with claimed damage were 2,000- to 4,000- meters away from point of impact of the nearest bomb, too distant to have been caused by the bombs, the teams concluded. Reports of live stock miscarriages were also investigated, but could not be correlated to the bomb blasts.
Talks to cease strafing training at Koon-ni began after an increase in demonstrations and complaints from nearby Maehyang-ri village residents, as well as by a large contingent of anti-US protesters. The increase in protests and complaints started shortly after the 8 May 2000 incident when a 25th Fighter Squadron A-10 pilot with engine problems jettisoned 6 live 500-pound bombs at the range. According to the MND, Maehyang-ri villagers said noise from low-angle strafing was singled out as causing the most inconvenience. The US Air Force's low-angle strafing and Republic of Korea Army (artillery) training, which had been the main causes for concern for the villagers, would be relocated to ranges already used for those events.
US Air Force pilots conducted low-angle strafing training at Koon-ni Range for the last time 17 August 2000. Although the strafe pit closed, pilots continued to use the range's Target Island to drop training bombs. The decision to halt low-angle strafing at Koon-ni Range was a result of negotiations between the Ministry of National Defense, Republic of Korea air force, and Seventh Air Force officials. Koon-ni Range was particularly important to training. However, this would not significantly impact combat readiness. Pilots would use a ROKAF range for future low-angle strafing training. A MND spokesman announced this decision at a press conference 18 August 2000.
In December 2000 51st Civil Engineer Squadron Explosive Ordnance Disposal Flight members used a Mk 2 shaped charge at Koon-ni Range to destroy a previously buried Korean War era 100-pound bomb, that was found at the range's Target Island No. 1.
The proposed civilian airline routes of the new Inchon International Airport, scheduled to open in 2003, encroached on the airspace at Koon-Ni Bombing Range, the primary United States range in Korea. Korean proposals would eliminate most flying into Koon Ni Range. Unless the US developed an alternative, the loss of Koon Ni range would force aircrews to train off-peninsula at a much higher cost. Incheon International Airport opened its operation on Thursday, 29 March 2001. One of the most advanced airports in the world, operating around the clock, IIA was equipped with state-of-the-art facilities, including high-tech runways, an airport security system, which made safe take-off and landing possible with visibility as low as 200 meters, an automatic baggage handling system to deliver passenger luggage within 10 minutes of arrival, and an airport-wide integrated information and telecommunications system.
After 8 years of construction work that began in 1992 on a reclaimed land area between the islands of Yeongjongdo and Yongyudo near Incheon, the first phase of IIA construction was completed with 2 all-weather runways and modern airport facilities. Located 52km from downtown Seoul, IIA can be reached directly via the newly built Airport Expressway.
In 2005 discussions started on the possibility of moving US training to the Pilseung range facilities from Koon-ni. This followed a January 2005 decision by a Korean court requiring the ROK government to pay a total of $7.8 million to some 1,900 residents of the areas surrounding the Koon-ni range. Following the discussion, the US subsequently closed operations at Koon-ni returning the facility to the Republic of Korea. The ROK was reticent to take ownership of the facility without a full scale environmental cleanup, a position supported by various citizen groups in Korea. However, in July 2006 the ROK declared that it had effectively shelved the issue and would be accepting Koon-ni along with another 14 sites where environmental cleanup had been an issue. Citizen groups protested this decision into 2007.
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