U.S. sends F-22 Raptors to Korea for training

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U.S. sends F-22 Raptors to Korea for training

The U.S. Air Force deployed eight F-22 Raptor stealth fighters to an air base in Gwangju, according to multiple sources, to take part in a joint South Korea-U.S. exercise next week.

One source told the JoongAng Ilbo Tuesday that the stealth fighters recently arrived from the United States “to take part in the South Korea-U.S. joint air drills slated for May 11, Max Thunder,” but that he could not confirm exactly when the F-22s arrived in Korea.

The Max Thunder joint exercise takes two weeks and has been held annually since 2009.

The 2017 Max Thunder drills, the second largest aerial exercise held on the Korean Peninsula, took place from April 17 to 28 last year, with 1,000 U.S. personnel and 500 South Korean personnel taking part and more than 800 combat training sorties over the course of two weeks. The joint exercise is designed to promote interoperability between the Korean and the U.S. forces, and to train their air forces to quickly generate overwhelming air power under realistic conditions and sharpen tactical skills.

Some 100 aircraft, including the Korean Air Force’s F-15K fighters and American F-16s, were deployed last year, but this is the first time the F-22s have been deployed for the Max Thunder drills.

The F-22s were photographed at Gwangju air base and in flight on Tuesday and Wednesday.

As the U.S. Air Force has only around 187 operational fifth-generation F-22 jets, they are considered valuable assets.

Their presence coincides with U.S. President Donald Trump hinting that Panmunjom, the truce village at the inter-Korean border, is a possible location for a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

During U.S. President Bill Clinton’s visit to the Joint Security Area (JSA) on July 11, 1993, 10 U.S. Air Force AH-64 Apache attack helicopters were on standby. A Korean government source said the F-22s may play that role for a summit this month.

BY LEE CHUL-JAE AND SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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