It is becoming clear that the U.S. Navy and Air Force are getting ready to fight an air war over North Korea, as evidenced by the large number of stealth planes that were involved in annual military exercises with South Korea.
In addition, the Navy has deployed a greater number of radar-hunting warplanes, such as the EA-18G Growler, five of which were used during the five-day exercises known as Vigilant Ace.
The two-person Growler crews have what many say is the toughest job in aerial warfare: Their mission is to fly through sophisticated air defense networks and ferret out and destroy air defense radar and installations, clearing the way for follow-on fighters and bombers.
The Vigilant Ace exercise is notable for the large number of radar-evading stealth warplanes that are taking part. Six Air Force F-22s, six Air Force F-35As and 12 Marine Corps F-35Bs are in South Korea for the training.
As early as 1985, the CIA warned that Soviet-made air-defense systems, including the then-new Flap Lid radar, “could threaten low-signature and stealth vehicles.” Not coincidentally, North Korea uses an upgraded version of the Flap Lip with its new KN-06 surface-to-air missile system, which the country’s leader Kim Jong Un declared operation in May.
Some analysts believe that North Korea was supplied the upgraded versions from China or Russia — or both.
A possible technology pipeline between Russia and China and North Korea’s air-defense system poses an enormous challenge to American air power—especially the Navy EA-18G crews. [source]
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