The Watchers

Osan AB, South Korea Officials here watched North Korea’s ballistic missile test on Wednesday from the floor of the 607th Air and Space Operations Center and are working in “close collaboration” with the Republic of Korea, Pacific Air Forces, and US Pacific Command “to understand the disposition of what happened,” Col. Paul Kirmis, vice commander of the 607th AOC, told Air Force Magazine. “We’re monitoring that and … trying to understand what we saw and what it means for North Korea’s capabilities and what it means for the allies of our region.” US forces here conduct airborne ISR missions every day in an effort to gain the best possible situational awareness of the environment, but it’s not easy trying to decipher North Korea’s intentions. Ulchi Guardian Freedom, one of the world’s largest military exercises, is set to kick off here on Aug. 13. And though Pyongyang typically amps up its rhetoric and threats of retaliation just before and during such large-force exercises, 7th Air Force Vice Commander Brig. Gen. Kyle Robinson said North Korean activities are still “pretty unpredictable.” The North’s ambitious ballistic missile development program? “means we need to be prepared here to defend the Republic of Korea with little to no warning,” said Lt. Gen. Thomas Bergeson, deputy commander of US Forces Korea and commander of 7th Air Force. Bergeson said the US and ROK forces have the “multi-layered, tiered defense” system in place to counter a ballistic missile attack should the need arise.