On the 17th October 2019, Military Aviation Reachout was invited for a brief visit at Osan air base to report on the daily flying activities and witness the various units that operate from Osan Air Base in South Korea. After a brief round of introductions and security clearance, we were escorted to the edge of an active taxiway, where we were given a brief history of the air base and a description of all the units on base.
History of the Base and its Host Units
Following the Cold War, the Soviet Union and the United States divided Korea into two sovereign states. Both governments of the two new Korean states claimed to be the legitimate government of all of Korea, and neither accepted the border as permanent, consequently resulting in the Korean War in 1950.
During the war, there were 57 air bases, but three were not completed. Osan AB was the only base built entirely by US Aviation Engineers intended to conduct combat operations during the Korean War. Once the Armistice treaty was signed in 1953, the USAF determined that Osan AB would serve as the hub of air operations on the Korean Peninsula given its location, the need to maintain a deterrent presence, and as an in-place installation should fighting erupt again. The base attained official permanent status in 1956.
Following the Armistice agreement, a number of incidents occurred such as the North Korean attack on USS Pueblo and seizure of its crew along with a US Navy EC-131 being shot down in international airspace which raised a period of tension with North Korea. Therefore, the presence of United States Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) at Osan is not to cause aggression but merely as a deterrence by the air power of the USAF to avoid such incidents from occurring again and to protect the people of South Korea.
The ROK Government has been one of the United States’ strongest allies for over 70 years. Initially the USAF came here to defend the people of South Korea from North Korea and over that time frame they have developed a relationship where they are one of their closest allies overall and you see this through the cooperation between the ROK Government and the US government. The US have a very good working relationship and they try to maintain that in all aspects of their relationship.
The 7th AF is a numbered air force of the US PACAF and it is headquartered at Osan AFB. The command’s mission is to plan and direct air component operations in the Republic of Korea and in the Northwest Pacific. The 7th AF has been an integral part of deterring aggression from North Korea. The major units of the 7th AF are the 51st FW and the 8th FW based at Kunsan Air Base.
The host unit at Osan Air Base is the 51st Fighter Wing, undertaking their motto ‘Leading the Charge’. The mission and role of the 51st FW is to defend the base and the general public of Korea, execute contingency operations, and sustain the force. The 51st FW with its fighter squadrons and myriad of base support agencies conduct a full spectrum of missions that provide for the defence of the Republic of Korea. Every member of the Team Osan is vital in maintaining stability in Northeast Asia.
To accomplish their mission, the men and women of the 51st Fighter Wing work in one of four groups: the Operations Group, Mission Support Group, Maintenance Group, or Medical Group. Over 20 squadrons comprise the four groups which include two fighter squadrons: the 25th Fighter Squadron who fly the A-10s, known as the “Assam Draggins” and the 36th Fighter Squadron flying the F-16s known as the “Fiends”.
Both 36th FS ‘Flying Fiends’ F-16s and the 25th FS ‘Assam Dragons’ A-10Cs sport a mustang on their tails, a visual representation of the Pegasus found on 51st FW’s Emblem. Apart from the mustang, the tail fins carry distinctive chequered markings. These trace back to the 1950s and the WWII era, where back then when one is flying with his squadron, one would want those marks to know who his wingmen were and for the 51st FW, it was the chequered tail pattern. The fighter wing kept them to keep close ties to their lineage.
Along with the 51st FW at Osan are the 33rd Rescue Squadron with their HH-60Gs which form part of the 18th Wing. The 33rd RS is based at Kadena Air Base, Japan and they carry out search and rescue missions with both fixed wing aircraft and helicopters.
Last but not least, is the 5th Reconnaissance Squadron nicknamed ‘Black Cats’ which form part of the 9th Reconnaissance Wing based at Beale Air Force Base, California. The squadron operates the famous Lockheed U-2 aircraft conducting reconnaissance and surveillance missions.
Daily Flight Operations
After the brief introduction of the history of the base, we were able to witness a wave of A-10s departing for their morning missions, closely followed by a departure of F-16 fighting falcons, also flying their daily morning sorties. In between, we also witnessed some approaches by USAF F-16s from the Wolfpack squadron at Kunsan Air Base, another USAF base in Southern South Korea.
While witnessing flying operations, we also noted aircraft parked within maintenance hangars. A spokesperson from the maintenance department described how Osan is equipped with all the necessary equipment in order to be able to service all the aircraft types that operate from the base, in addition to other aircraft that regularly visit the base. They also mentioned that they have enough spare parts and engines in order to be able to be combat ready, should the need arise to protect Osan and the people of South Korea from threats.
Following this brief interview we were also lucky to witness two U-2S dragon ladies taxi past us prior to take off and perform their daily missions. This was a truly unbelievable experience, especially seeing the chase car interacting with the aircraft as it took off and collected the removable landing gear from the aircraft’s wings. The presence of the U-2S at Osan also highlights the importance that Osan Air Base has for the USAF through the stationing of these majestic aircraft in such a strategic place within the Asian Region, close to Russia, North Korea and China.
While waiting for the A-10s to land back from their morning missions, another spokesperson described that military personnel and airmen interact quite well with South Korean civilians, who on their end have welcomed the USAF in their country with open arms. This was also evident in the number of merchandise shops and US themed restaurants in the area surrounding the base, showing the growing positive relations between these two countries.
In the afternoon, we found a spot in the approach and spent another enjoyable few hours spotting the landings of the afternoon wave, followed by some additional visitors. Like in the morning, a considerable number of F-16s and A-10s took off for the afternoon mission.
This brought to an end a truly inspiring visit to one of the largest USAF bases in the Asian region. We would like to thank all the military personnel who took great care of us and answered all questions that we had, providing details and data that portray the importance of Osan Air Base within the Asian- Pacific region. We hope that Military Aviation Reachout will be able to visit this airbase again in the future.