South Korea Table of Contents
The air force was organized into three commands operating approximately 700 aircraft from eight major airbases: the Combat Air Command controlled the bulk of the roughly 500 jet combat aircraft; a small Air Transportation Command had 37 transport aircraft; and the Air Training Command used 7 types of trainers (see table 17, Appendix). In 1990 the air force had 40,000 personnel on active duty. Most of these personnel were stationed at large, well-defended air bases located at Suwon, Osan, Ch'ongju, Kangnong, Taegu, Kunsan, Kwangju, and Sunch'on. The air force also operated an unknown number of smaller airbases. Civilian airfields, including three international airfields at Seoul, Pusan, and Cheju, would be utilized in wartime, as would specially designed sections of major highways.
The Combat Air Command, headquartered at Osan, controlled aircraft that included twenty-two squadrons of ground attack fighters/interceptors, twenty-three counterinsurgency aircraft in one squadron, twenty reconnaissance aircraft in one squadron, and fifteen search-and-rescue helicopters in one squadron. All of these aircraft were produced in the United States, with the exception of sixty-eight Northrop F-5E/Fs that were coproduced with Korean Air. The 294 Northrop F-5s and 36 General Dynamics F16C /Ds were the primary ground attack aircraft. Approximately 130 McDonnell Douglas F-4s were deployed for air defense but were equally useful in ground attack. All three types of aircraft were capable of being used in either role, depending on their armament. The air force supported army counterinsurgency programs with twenty-three Cessna A-37 aircraft, used as forward air controllers, but which could also be used in ground attack. Eight Northrop F-5s and twelve McDonnell Douglas F-4s were equipped solely for reconnaissance. A total of fifteen Bell UH-1B and UH1H helicopters were available for search-and-rescue operations.
During the 1980s, the air force modernization program focused primarily on the formation and deployment of twelve new fighter aircraft squadrons and the establishment of an automated air defense network. The F-16 provided South Korea with an aircraft believed to be technologically superior to similarly designed communist aircraft, including the Soviet-produced MiG-29, the most sophisticated aircraft employed by the North Korean air force. South Korea-United States coproduction of F-5 aircraft demonstrated the resolve of South Korean military planners to promote a defense industry that simultaneously utilized advanced United States technology while enhancing indigenous efforts both at establishing an aviation industry and increasing access to Western technology.
The Tactical Air Control Center at Osan became operational in 1983. Reconnaissance aircraft and air defense radar sites informed the center about potentially hostile aircraft before they entered South Korean airspace. In wartime this capability was expected to allow South Korean air controllers more time to assess threat and the ability quickly to communicate orders to interceptor aircraft and surface-to-air missile sites.
Data as of June 1990