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Amid rising tensions, South Korea offers rare glimpse inside military bases

South Korean fighter pilots are 'ready to scramble' as North Korea prepares a missile launch.

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A computer screen inside the lobby of the 121st Fighter Squadron of the Korean Air Force tracks every aircraft in the air over the Korean peninsula. Two yellow images flash over North Korea. Twenty or so green images show South Korean aircraft in flight, and another dozen blue images glimmer where American warplanes are flying.

South Korean pilots, averaging six or seven hours a week in the air, say their North Korean counterparts, flying older model MiGs, are lucky to fly once or twice a month.

"I scramble a lot," says Cpt. Yang Jung Hwan, showing off his F16, perched in front of one of more than 100 revetements for aircraft here. "The North Koreans don't fly a lot, but if they come close, we have to scramble."

Captain Yang says he makes sure not to get too near the North Korean border, about 100 miles from here, and he's never actually seen a North Korean plane. He's supremely confident, though, of South Korea's ability to discourage any designs the North might have of risking another shooting war.

As North Korean technicians load a long-range Taepodong-2 rocket onto the launching pad this week – in keeping with their plans to fire it between April 4 and April 8 – South Korean forces are putting on an extraordinary display of bravado.

The decision to provide a detailed tour of this normally closed, super-sensitive air base – and a separate look at South Korea's largest naval base at the port of Pyongtaek, 30 miles up the coast – testifies to the South's defiant response to a torrent of recent rhetoric.


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