South Korea commits to additional F-35As

The Republic of Korea Air Force could eventually acquire up to 60 Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighters. (USAF)

South Korea signalled its intent to expand its fleet of Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters after the country signed a letter of acceptance (LOA) to acquire additional aircraft.

The South Korean Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) announced in early January that the LOA was signed in December, although it did disclose specific details.

Seoul had earlier in September requested to acquire up to 25 F-35As from the US government as well as associated equipment and services worth US$5.06 billion through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) mechanism. DAPA noted that the proposed acquisition would constitute part of the second phase of the next-generation fighter aircraft (F-X) acquisition programme.

DAPA added that the 40 aircraft procured in the first phase of the F-X programme were delivered and deployed from 2019 to 2022.

According to the proposed FMS sale, the contract will also cover 26 Pratt & Whitney F135-PW-100 engines and the F-35 Block 4 upgrade along with major modifications, maintenance, and maintenance support.

This latest effort will also “improve aircraft utilisation rates and reduce operating and maintenance costs” and enable the country to “secure national-level depot maintenance capabilities, including stealth frontal painting capabilities”.

South Korea also recently requested the sale of airborne munitions, including AIM-120C-8 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAMs), Mk-84 bombs to be reconstituted into GBU-31V(1) Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs), BLU-109C/B bombs for GBU-31V(3) JDAMs, and Mk-82 bombs to be adapted to GBU-12 Paveway II or GBU-54 Laser JDAM (LJDAM).

DAPA said that the additional acquisition will reinforce the ability of the Republic of Korea Air Force (RoKAF) to deter “omnidirectional threats and neutralise North Korean nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles” in a crisis, adding that the additional aircraft will also help backfill the gap caused by the retirement of older aircraft in the RoKAF fleet.

The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) noted that the proposed sale will improve South Korea’s ability to meet current and future threats while ensuring interoperability with US forces.

by Jr Ng