American and South Korean fighting forces constantly train to go to war in an instant and under the worst conditions. Part of this includes getting as many aircraft loaded up with weapons and in the air as possible for the initial waves of an attack. To practice for this, multiple exercises are held yearly where fighter aircraft are rapidly loaded with weapons and fuel and sent on their way as if they were in combat. To up ante, all of this can all happen under simulated chemical weapons attack and at night.
But the aircraft involved often do not go into the air. Instead, they taxi out to the runway and sit running—as though they had flown their sortie—and then taxi back en masse for the complicated process of de-arming and deplaning. Rolling down the runway as one giant herd is an impressive site, is lovingly nicknamed the "elephant walk."
In South Korea, these exercises are usually code named "Beverly XXX," and this particular one was called "Beverly Herd 16-01." Joining the forward deployed A-10s of the 25th Fighter Squadron, and the F-16s from the 36th Fighter Squadron, F-16CJ Wild Weasels from the Minnesota Air National Guard's 179th Fighter Squadron, who are on temporary deployment to South Korea, also took part in the exercise. Their jets have the dark F-35-like paint jobs.
Also of interest are the weapons loadouts carried by each aircraft which is representative of what munitions would be used should war break out on the Korean Peninsula. The Duluth-based Block 50 F-16C/Ds are seen toting AGM-88 High-Speed Anti-Radiant missiles used for suppression of enemy air defenses, along with a quartet of AIM-120 AMRAAMs for counter-air duties. They also carry the HARM Targeting System (HTS) pod that is customary for F-16CJ, as well as a Sniper targeting pod.
Interestingly, some of the 36th Fighter Squadron's Block 40 F-16C/Ds carry the identical loadout. In the past few years USAF Block 40 F-16s, once focused on the night interdiction and deep strike mission, have been upgraded to F-16CG standard and can carry the HARM Targeting System pod just like the F-16C/D Block 50 Wild Weasels. This common configuration upgrade path has vastly increased the USAF's suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD) capability and the Block 40 F-16's survivability in general.
The 36th Fighter Squadron's F-16s can also be seen toting quad-racks of Small Diameter Bombs, giving them a stand-off precision strike capability in any weather conditions. The winged SDBs can travel dozens of miles to their targets and pack considerable punch for their diminutive size. It is a nearly ideal weapon for the opening strikes against smaller fixed targets and anti-aircraft emplacement in North Korea.
The A-10's loadout is optimized to go after North Korea's expansive, albeit dated, armor and especially the thousands of artillery pieces stationed along the demilitarized zone that pose a clear threat to the South. They carry a pair of AGM-65 Maverick missiles, a pair of GBU-12 500lb laser guided bombs, a pair of GPS-guided GBU-38 500lb Joint Direct Attack Munitions, a seven round 2.75 inch rocket pod likely loaded with marking rounds used to designate targets for attacking fighters, and a pair of AIM-9L/M Sidewinders for self protection against North Korea's geriatric air force round out its expendible stores. Oh and we cannot forget its GAU-8 Avenger 30mm cannon that is likely loaded with 1,174 rounds. The A-10s also carry the LITENING targeting pod. All said this is a great real-world illustration of just how much combat punch a single A-10 brings to the table.
All the aircraft, both F-16s and A-10s, are shown carrying a variant of the AN/ALQ-184 electronic warfare pods for self-protection.
If anything, these exercises not only keep US air combat units stationed in South Korea on their toes, but they also send a very strong and clear message to North Korea as to what they would be facing during open conflict. It is as much a deterrent as it is a training opportunity, and a very potent one at that.
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