Max Thunder is a bi-lateral US-ROK training exercise intended to increase interoperability between ROK and US forces. During the Max Thunder exercise US Air Force elements to work alongside elements from the ROK Air Force through exercise scenarios simulating combined operations against a hostile force. The objective of the exercise is for the 2 countries' air forces to sharpen their ability to work together in a simulated wartime environment. The exercise was developed to mirror the Red Flag exercises held in the United States and like Red Flag was held biannually, generally in May and October. Max Thunder was the only exercise conducted between USAF and ROKAF personnel on the peninsula that allowed for both groups of airmen to not only fly together, but plan, brief and debrief together. Max Thunder also allowed ROKAF the experience in hosting international exercises.
Max Thunder 08
US Airmen and aircraft from units across the Pacific Air Forces arrived at Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea on June 16 to participate in Exercise Max Thunder. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons, F-15E Strike Eagles, A-10 Thunderbolt IIs, B-52 Stratofortresses, E-3 Sentries and KC-135 Stratotankers, flew multiple-training missions alongside Korean F-15Ks, KF-16s and (R)F-4s, designed to replicate the scenarios and planning cycles of the upcoming Red Flag exercise the Korean air force members would be participating in at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. In addition to its goals for USAF-ROKAF interoperability, the exercise also helped prepare ROKAF pilots and their F-15Ks for their first participation in a Red Flag exercise.
While Korean and American Airmen regularly work together at Kunsan Air Base, the Max Thunder exercise marked the first time the 2 air forces had flown together in such large numbers. The sheer number of aircraft and participants made safety a primary concern during the exercise. In addition to the aircraft normally stationed at Kunsan Air Base, F-15Es from Mountain Home Air Force Base's 389th Fighter Squadron, along with approximately 90 Airmen deployed to participate in the exercise.
Max Thunder 09
US and Republic of Korea Air Force personnel began the second Seventh Air Force-designed Max Thunder bi-lateral air training exercise at Kunsan Air Base on 7 May 2009. The training opportunity aimed to test aircrews' warfighting skills in realistic combat situations that combine both ROKAF and USAF flying and maintenance personnel. The exercise continued through 15 May 2009.
Max Thunder 09-01 increased US Air Force and ROKAF commitments to deter conflict in the region. Participating US Air Force units included the 80th Fighter Squadron, Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea; 36th Fighter Squadron, Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea; 44th Fighter Squadron, Kadena Air Base, Japan; and the 13th Fighter Squadron, Misawa Air Base, Japan. Max Thunder 09 involved more than 10 flying units in total and nearly 70 US and ROKAF aircraft. US Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons and F-15 Eagles teamed with ROKAF KF-16s, F-15Ks, F-4Es, RF-4Cs and F-5s to enhance overall interoperability during the exercise.
Max Thunder 10
Members from the USAF's 8th Fighter Wing and Republic of Korea Air Force participated in Exercise Max Thunder 10-2, hosted by Kwangju Air Base, between 15 and 22 October 2010. In all, nearly 50 combat aircraft participated in the exercise, including aircraft from the USAF's 80th Fighter Squadron. Max Thunder 10 involved the first time such a large aviation package was deployed from Kunsan Air Base to Kwangju Air Base. Max Thunder 10 included the deployment to also test Kwangju's ability t to accept follow-on forces in the event of a wartime scenario in addition to the exercise's basic function of testing USAF-ROKAF interoperability.
Max Thunder 11
In May 2011, South Korean and US air forces hosted Exercise Max Thunder 11-1, held annually, which provided bi-lateral training to more than 320 personnel from the 8th Fighter Wing at Kunsan Air Base and the 51st Fighter Wing and 7th Air Force at Osan Air Base. Working alongside their Kunsan counterparts, Airmen from Osan Air Base assigned to the 621st Air Control Squadron said the exercise meant greater communication of operational capabilities and helped facilitate professional development and growth. Members of the Royal Australian Air Force attended Max Thunder 11 to observe operations between the Koreans and Americans.
Max Thunder 12
In May 2012, approximately 720 US and Allied service members deployed to Gwangju Air Base, South Korea as part of Max Thunder 12-1, a 2-week long wartime exercise. The combined joint 2-week exercise allowed the US Air Force to work alongside the ROK Air Force through exercise scenarios simulating combined operations against a hostile force. Max Thunder was the largest Air Combat Command exercise in Korea and was conducted twice a year. Each exercise rotates leadership roles between the Republic of Korea and US, and the 2012 exercise was spearheaded by the ROK.
Two B-52 Bombers from Anderson Air Force Base, Guam, flew in air-to-air combat missions during Exercise Max Thunder 12-1 at Gwangji Air Base, Republic of Korea on 17 May 2012. The USAF reported that this was the first time B-52's had flown in the Max Thunder Exercise, which had a tradition as being a fighter aircraft exercise since its inauguration in 2008. However, in 2008, the USAF reported that B-52s had been part of the initial Max Thunder Exercise as well. It is possible that Max Thunder 12-1 represented the first time B-52s had flown in the Exercise since 2008. It is also possible that the planned participation of B-52s in Max Thunder 08, expected prior to the exercise to be very limited, did not occur. The decision to integrate B-52s into MT 12-1 was decided just hours before their executed mission. During the exercise, the B-52s were tasked to bring approximately 40 percent of the weaponry to the fight and were instructed to hit roughly 85 percent of the planned targets for the mission.
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