By John A. Okonski, 51st Fighter Wing Historian
/ Published February 28, 2012
OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- Although President Obama's Fiscal Year 2013 Department of Defense budget proposal recently presented to Congress calls for inactivation of five of the 16 A-10C Thunderbolt II squadrons from the U.S. Air Force active, reserve, and air national guard inventory, the 25th Fighter Squadron at Osan Air Base will remain a vital air asset in the defense of the Republic of Korea.
The 25th FS became the last A-10A unit of the U.S. Air Force total force components to complete conversion to the A-10C in 2011. But, more importantly, the A-10 in the ROK recently reached an important milestone. Thirty years ago on Jan. 28 1982, the first two A-10As assigned to the 25th FS landed at Osan Air Base. These aircraft served as trainer aircraft for maintenance crews as the ROK Government completed construction of facilities at Suwon Air Base to serve as the main operating base for the A-10A.
A little more than a month later, on March 3, 1982, the first six operational A-10As landed at Suwon to begin a new era of deterrence and offensive firepower of the US Air Force in the ROK. By January 1983, the 25th FS was equipped with 26 A-10As to include the two trainer aircraft.
The A-10 was the first U.S. Air Force aircraft specially designed and built for close air support of ground forces. Its development resulted from the deadly experiences of numerous jet fighters and US Army helicopters being shot down over South Vietnam. The U.S. Air Force consequently initiated a design study in 1967 for a low-cost attack aircraft that could have long loiter time, low-speed maneuverability, massive cannon firepower, and extreme survivability. Fairchild-Republic, which was awarded the contract on March 1, 1973, built the aircraft essentially around its 30mm GAU-8/A Gatling gun that can fire 3,900 rounds a minute. Coupled with a large ordnance capacity, the A-10 is particularly effective against enemy armor and tanks.
Discussions between the U.S. and ROK Governments to base an A-10 squadron in the ROK had been ongoing since the mid 1970s as the A-10A entered the U.S. Air Force inventory on March 20, 1976 with the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz. Two 355 TFW A-10As deployed to Osan AB 15 months later on June 19, 1977 to participate in a combined ROK-US exercise to demonstrate its capabilities. Col. Ralph E. Adams, 355 TFS vice commander, had the distinction of landing the first A-10A in the ROK.
Earlier as the aircraft was being built, the U.S. experienced an inglorious withdrawal of military forces from South Vietnam in April 1975 followed by the fatal U.S.S Mayaguez incident off the coast of Cambodia in May 1975. These events greatly affected the American public, and in 1976, elected Jimmy Carter as president who, among his foreign affairs positions, advocated for withdrawal of all U.S. military forces from the ROK. Unlike the Vietnam setback, debate within Congress ensued during the next three years over this course of action. Later events proved the deliberate debate fortuitous regarding the long-standing U.S. military role in the ROK.
In early 1979, Soviet Union military forces entered Afghanistan. This event resulted in the Carter Administration reversing its position, and rethinking its military strategy in the Pacific and Far East. At the 12th ROK-U.S. Security Consultative Meetings held in Seoul in October 1979, Secretary of Defense Harold Brown announced that the U.S. would base an A-10A squadron in the ROK by the early 1980s with Suwon AB selected as the bed-down site.
The announcement resulted in Pacific Air Forces activating the 25th Tactical Fighter Squadron on February 1, 1981 in an unmanned status with assignment to the 51st Composite Wing (Tactical) at Osan AB. This move was preparatory to arrival of the
A-10A. As the date neared for arrival of the A-10A on the ROK, the 25 TFS became fully manned with Maj Harry J. Keiling Jr as the first 25 TFS commander at Suwon AB. He flew the second A-10A into Osan AB on January 28, 1982 after Col. Eugene G. Myers, 51 CW (T) commander, landed the first A-10A on that date. Both members later flew the first two operational A-10As into Suwon AB.
Between March 3, 1982 and September 30, 1989, the 25 TFS operated with the 6151st Consolidated Aircraft Maintenance Squadron from Suwon AB. On September 23, 1989, the 25 TFS flew its last A-10A sortie from Suwon AB. Earlier, the squadron transferred 13 A-10As to the 19th Tactical Air Support Squadron between January and March 1989. The
19 TASS, assigned to the 5th Tactical Air Control Group at Osan AB, had been flying the OV-10 Bronco which, in turn, transferred its aircraft to stateside units. After September 30, 1989, the 25 TFS returned to unmanned status and finally was inactivated on July 31, 1990.
The 19 TASS later was assigned to the 51st Operations Group on October 1, 1990 as part of the service-wide "Objective Wing" reorganization directed by Air Force chief of staff, Gen. Merrill A. McPeak. Refinements to the "Objective Wing" concept continued over the following 3 years. McPeak further advocated that the most historic units replace newer unit designations. As a result, the 25th FS, which had been a charter unit of the 51st Fighter Group before World War II, replaced the 19 TASS designation on October 1, 1993.
Even though the A-10 proved its worth in combat during Operation Desert Storm in 1991, some U.S. Air Force planners wanted to retire the aircraft given extensive reductions in the military during the post-Cold War period. However, the A-10 survived these efforts, and has continued to serve exemplary during operations in Afghanistan.
During the 1990s, one measure the U.S. Air Force took to provide a more cost effective force structure given funding constraints was to inactivate a number of combat squadrons, but increase the number of aircraft in its remaining units. In 1995, the 25th FS went from a 12 primary aircraft authorized unit to 18. Four years later in 1999, the 25th FS again increased in authorized aircraft to 24.
Although the A-10 has been in the US Force inventory for more than 35 years, the US Air Force sought to extend its service life and improve combat capabilities. The A-10 service life has been extended through the Service Life Extension Program. Its combat capabilities have been upgraded with the latest weapons, targeting, and avionics technology through such programs as the low altitude safety and targeting enhancement system, Pave Penny laser tracking pod, liteningadvanced targeting pod, and precision engagement (PE) modifications. The latter program resulted in all A-10As being redesignated as A-10Cs.