Vigilant Ace is a biannual [twice yearly], bilateral training event that exercises U.S. and Republic of Korea Air Force interoperability through simulated wartime tasking. 'Vigilant Ace' is a large-scale air exercise that involves more than 200 aircraft from South Korea and the US. Previously known as Beverly Bulldog, this exercise is regularly scheduled training, held annually, and VIGILANT ACE 18 highlights the longstanding military partnership, commitment and enduring friendship between two nations. It is designed to ensure peace and security on the Korean Peninsula, and reaffirms the U.S. commitment to stability in the Northeast Asia region. The Pentagon revealed 19 October 2018 that South Korea and the US had agreed to suspend their joint air defense exercise "Vigilant Ace"-- that had been slated for December. According to a statement by spokesperson Dana White, the decision was reached by South Korea's Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo and his U.S. counterpart James Mattis to give the ongoing diplomatic process with North Korea "every opportunity to continue." The Pentagon also said Jeong and Mattis are committed to modifying exercises to maintain the readiness of the South Korea-U.S. alliance, and they will "maintain close coordination and evaluate" future exercises. After the historic summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump in June, Trump said certain joint military drills with South Korea would be suspended. The largest, the 'Ulchi Freedom Guardian' exercise, was cancelled in August. Seoul and Washington's decision to call off 'Vigilant Ace' this year, is seen as an attempt to build stronger trust with Pyeongyang, particularly ahead of the second Kim-Trump summit.
Vigilant Ace 16
The period 01 November through 07 November marked the planning and participation of a first of its kind exercise for 7th Air Force, Vigilant Ace 16. For a unit that already plans and/or participates in over 30 unique training events on average yearly, this was no easy task. So with that many training events already on the roster, why another exercise; how would this be different?
"[Exercises like] Key Resolve and Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise the strategic level, whereas the tactical level is all simulated," said Lt. Col. David Villa, 7th AF Inspector General, and exercise planner. "The other types of exercises we typically do are tactical level exercises where the wing executes the flying but there's no higher level command and control or strategic level involvement above the wing. So this exercise is unique in that it bridges the gap and is specifically focused on exercising the strategic to operational to tactical level linkages."
In meeting this larger-scale objective, the exercise spanned eight bases in Korea, and involved units from Japan, Guam and the United States. It encompassed the U.S. Air Force, Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air National Guard and required the movement of more than 1,000 personnel and more than 50 aircraft into the ROK, adding to the over 20,000 U.S. and ROK participants and more than 200 on-peninsula participating aircraft.
"The 374th Airlift Wing and Operations Group [Yokota, Air Base, Japan] spearheaded the airlift planning for this exercise and partnered with the Alaskan and California Air National Guard to obtain the proper amount of aircraft, air crews, and maintenance support necessary to create a 'Western Pacific air bridge' for our fighter units to deploy efficiently and effectively," said Maj. Mark Nexon, 374th Operations Group mission commander and lead planner for the airlift portion of the VA16.
"Airlift, in this case an air bridge, can quickly deploy forces for combat or humanitarian reasons," he said. "More importantly, it can sustain Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines in a variety of scenarios -- many of which don't allow for overland or oversea delivery due to any numbers of barriers. From my perspective, airlift is the most responsive and flexible link between our logistics enterprise and those in the fight."
One of those units "in the fight," was the 18th Fighter Wing deployed from Kadena Air Base, Japan. "For the folks from across the entire [18th Fighter] wing to be able to come, plug in to a Korean Air Force Base, bed down and learn how to operate out of this base in the local air space and environment makes us more ready to provide assistance to Seventh Air Force and to the Republic of Korea air force if contingencies require us to come and support defensive operations on the Korean peninsula," said Col. David Mineau, 18th Operations Group commander. But a seamless transition required months of planning and coordination across the Pacific Command area of responsibility.
That coordination spanned the 374th AW to the 18th FW. The success of this coordination was seen as early as halfway through the exercise when the 374th AW had moved more than 400 thousand pounds of cargo and over 650 passengers during approximately 87 sorties. Nexon added that by the end of the exercise the 374th AW would have flown more missions and hours than it flies during a normal month.
The U.S. units weren't alone in reaping the benefits from this new training. The Republic of Korea air force is doing something they've never done before as well. So, it reflects very credibly on them and the coalition that they took this step forward to undertake an exercise like this that's unlike anything they've ever done before. The lessons they're going to learn will be significant and we'll be able as a coalition to take that further and plan more successful exercises together which ultimately increases the combat capability of the entire coalition.
Seventh Air Force Commander Lt. Gen. Terrence O'Shaughnessy went on to say, "Vigilant Ace 16 was a massive undertaking that really showed what air power in the Pacific is capable of. The coordination required for multiple wings, two numbered air forces and the Republic of Korea Air Force Operations Command to provide heavy airlift support and a comprehensive air combat campaign was really incredible. Every Airman, Sailor, Soldier and Marine should be very proud of all we accomplished."
Vigilant Ace 17
Marine Wing Support Squadron 171, Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 225 and other elements of Marine Aircraft Group 12 from Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, arrived at Osan Air Force Base, Korea, Nov. 15, 2016, to conduct unit level training and participate in exercise Vigilant Ace 17-1.
Each Marine squadron has a unique position in the exercise to train for survivability in a contaminated area. MWSS-171 will provide ground support consisting of refueling the jets, and aircraft rescue and firefighting. “Marine Wing Support Squadron 171 will be working with VMFA (AW)-225 to support their flight operations and also augment Osan Air Force Base personnel," said U.S. Marine Corps 1st Lt. Samuel Ernst, combat engineer with MWSS-171. "They will test their skills and cross-train with their Air Force counterparts to support the flying squadron.”
For the first time, MAG-12 deployed a squadron size chemical biological radiological and nuclear defense capability to an operation at one time. Marines, USAF and ROK personnel will train together under a simulated contaminated environment to improve effectiveness in their mission oriented protective posture gear and abilities to fight under uncomfortable situations.
Vigilant Ace 17 was the largest-ever joint air exercise conducted by the two countries, with 270 aircraft and some twelve-thousand troops taking part. Included were F-22 and F-35A stealth fighter jets, an addition which was strongly condemned by North Korea as provocative.
Vigilant Ace 18
The annual VIGILANT ACE 18, a regularly scheduled flying exercise, was to be held on the Korean Peninsula Dec. 4-8, and 12,000 U.S. personnel will participate along with Airmen from the Republic of Korea Air Force. This realistic air combat exercise is designed to enhance interoperability between U.S. and Republic of Korea forces and increase the combat effectiveness of both nations.
U.S. Air Force, Marine Corps, and Navy personnel will train with air assets from the Republic of Korea, flying 230 aircraft at eight U.S. and ROK military installations. VIGILANT ACE is part of a continuous exercise program designed to enhance readiness and operational capability of U.S. and ROK forces.
Vigilant Ace 21
The militaries of South Korea and the U.S. kicked off a five-day combined air exercise on 01 November 2021 involving the mobilization of around one-hundred air assets from both sides. Citing military sources, Seoul-based Yonhap News Agency reports that F-15-K and KF-16 jets will be used by South Korea as well as F-16s by the U.S. The joint air drill is a replacement for the larger Vigilant Ace exercise held every December but was suspended in 2018 to support diplomatic efforts for denuclearization and peace on the Korean Peninsula amid fierce opposition from Pyeongyang of such joint military exercises.
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