Max Thunder roars at Kwangju

U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft taxi to the runway as another takes off Oct. 18 at Kwangju Air Base, Republic of Korea, during exercise Max Thunder 10-02. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Eric Burks)

U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft taxi to the runway as another takes off Oct. 18 at Kwangju Air Base, Republic of Korea, during exercise Max Thunder 10-02. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Eric Burks)

Pilots from Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea, climb aboard their F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft Oct. 18 at Kwangju Air Base, ROK, during exercise Max Thunder 10-02. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Eric Burks)

Pilots from Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea, climb aboard their F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft Oct. 18 at Kwangju Air Base, ROK, during exercise Max Thunder 10-02. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Eric Burks)

Senior Airman Jonicko Dela Cruz, 51st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, right, extends a handshake to Lt. Col. Jon Wilkinson, 51st Operations Support Squadron commander, Oct. 18 at Kwangju Air Base, Republic of Korea, during exercise Max Thunder 10-02. Both Airmen are from Osan Air Base, ROK. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Eric Burks)

Senior Airman Jonicko Dela Cruz, 51st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, right, extends a handshake to Lt. Col. Jon Wilkinson, 51st Operations Support Squadron commander, Oct. 18 at Kwangju Air Base, Republic of Korea, during exercise Max Thunder 10-02. Both Airmen are from Osan Air Base, ROK. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Eric Burks)

Maj. Jonathan Thomassee, 36th Fighter Squadron pilot, straps into the cockpit of an F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft as Senior Airman Jonicko Dela Cruz, 51st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, looks on during exercise Max Thunder 10-02 Oct. 18 at Kwangju Air Base, Republic of Korea. Both Airmen are from Osan Air Base, ROK. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Eric Burks)

Maj. Jonathan Thomassee, 36th Fighter Squadron pilot, straps into the cockpit of an F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft as Senior Airman Jonicko Dela Cruz, 51st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, looks on during exercise Max Thunder 10-02 Oct. 18 at Kwangju Air Base, Republic of Korea. Both Airmen are from Osan Air Base, ROK. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Eric Burks)

F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft from the 36th Fighter Squadron, Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, taxi to the runway Oct. 18 during exercise Max Thunder 10-02 at Kwangju Air Base, Republic of Korea. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Eric Burks)

F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft from the 36th Fighter Squadron, Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, taxi to the runway Oct. 18 during exercise Max Thunder 10-02 at Kwangju Air Base, Republic of Korea. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Eric Burks)

A Republic of Korea Air Force F-15K Slam Eagle takes off during exercise Max Thunder 10-02 Oct. 18 at Kwangju Air Base, ROK. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Eric Burks)

A Republic of Korea Air Force F-15K Slam Eagle takes off during exercise Max Thunder 10-02 Oct. 18 at Kwangju Air Base, ROK. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Eric Burks)

8th Maintenance Group Airmen from Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea, conduct a Foreign Object Debris walk Oct. 18 at Kwangju Air Base, ROK, during exercise Max Thunder 10-02. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Eric Burks)

8th Maintenance Group Airmen from Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea, conduct a Foreign Object Debris walk Oct. 18 at Kwangju Air Base, ROK, during exercise Max Thunder 10-02. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Eric Burks)

U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft prepare to take off Oct. 18 at Kwangju Air Base, Republic of Korea, during exercise Max Thunder 10-02. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Eric Burks)

U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft prepare to take off Oct. 18 at Kwangju Air Base, Republic of Korea, during exercise Max Thunder 10-02. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Eric Burks)

Senior Airman Jonicko Dela Cruz, 51st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, signals for an F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft piloted by Lt. Col. Jon Wilkinson, 51st Operations Support Squadron commander, to begin taxiing during exercise Max Thunder 10-02 Oct. 18 at Kwangju Air Base, Republic of Korea. Both Airmen are from Osan Air Base, ROK. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Eric Burks)

Senior Airman Jonicko Dela Cruz, 51st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, signals for an F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft piloted by Lt. Col. Jon Wilkinson, 51st Operations Support Squadron commander, to begin taxiing during exercise Max Thunder 10-02 Oct. 18 at Kwangju Air Base, Republic of Korea. Both Airmen are from Osan Air Base, ROK. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Eric Burks)

An F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft from Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea, takes off during exercise Max Thunder 10-02 Oct. 18 at Kwangju Air Base, Republic of Korea. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Eric Burks)
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An F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft from Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea, takes off during exercise Max Thunder 10-02 Oct. 18 at Kwangju Air Base, Republic of Korea. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Eric Burks)

An F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft and pilot from Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea return to Kwangju Air Base, ROK, following a training mission Oct. 18 during exercise Max Thunder 10-02. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Eric Burks)
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An F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft and pilot from Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea return to Kwangju Air Base, ROK, following a training mission Oct. 18 during exercise Max Thunder 10-02. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Eric Burks)

KWANGJU AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- Flight sorties consisting of integrated U.S. and ROK Air Force aircraft and Airmen began here Oct. 18 as the focal point of Max Thunder 10-02.

Max Thunder, a bilateral training exercise designed to demonstrate interoperability between U.S. and ROK military forces on the peninsula, kicked off Oct. 15 as more than 600 U.S. and ROK Airmen and 37 aircraft deployed here to execute and sustain flight operations.

During a mass in-brief at the base theater Oct. 15, Col. Rodney Petithomme, 7th Air Force, said the close relationship between the U.S. and ROK Air Forces was very unique. "This exercise is another opportunity to increase interoperability and build on that relationship, so we can make each other better," he said.

The large-scale exercise replicates the scenarios and planning cycles of RED FLAG Nellis and provides invaluable large-force employment training for U.S. and ROK military forces, according to 7th Air Force.

Exercise missions are comprised of scenarios where combined flight formations engage in air warfare against unexpected hostile air provocation and perform tactical bombardments on targets, according to a ROK Air Force news release. U.S. Air Force F-16 aircraft from Osan and Kunsan Air Bases are flying with ROK Air Force KF-16s, F-15Ks, and F-4Es from Daegu, Cheongju and Seosan Air Bases.

This year's Max Thunder is also the first to feature the 18th Aggressor Squadron from Eielson Air Base, Alaska, as the primary "enemy threat."

Capt. Monessa Catuncan, 80th Fighter Squadron pilot, said, "Working with the 18th Aggressors gives us a great opportunity to fight 'against' them in a large force exercise, really doesn't happen very often."

"Having the opportunity to fly with the experts of enemy tactics gives us some very effective training against some of the threats that we don't quite replicate as often as they do," she said, after flying her first sortie here.

"Combining forces definitely makes sure we get the most highly effective training we can," said the captain. "This type of exercise is not only preparing us for air-to-air combat, but also dropping bombs, meeting the enemy out in the air, and making sure we're all combining forces together and getting the mission objective complete."

"Putting it all together and seeing almost 30 aircraft flying together at the same time, fighting and working together as one big push is an experience that you won't get very often, and something I haven't seen very often in my Air Force career," said Captain Catuncan.

Lt. Col. James Wilkerson, 80th FS commander, who also flew during the initial Oct. 18 sortie, said the training was "unbelievable."

"We always talk about fighting together with the ROKAF, though we never really execute it to this degree. Not only are we briefing together but we're debriefing as well and we're getting some unbelievable lessons learned about how to integrate our packages better and how to operate better."

"This is an unbelievable opportunity - it's only a 40-mile deployment for the folks at Kunsan, but whether its 40 miles or 400, it really doesn't matter," said the colonel. "We've still taken our entire aviation package and moved it south to try to really see if we can take the fight north from another level."

The training also supports one of the second tenants at the 8th Fighter Wing, he said - to accept follow-on forces.

"Follow-on forces would definitely operate out of Kwangju and we're proving we can do that on a daily basis," said Colonel Wilkerson. "That's really what this exercise is about."

Max Thunder 10-02 continues through Oct. 22.