Asia Defense | Security | East Asia

South Korea to Procure 20 More F-35 Stealth Fighters

The Republic of Korea Air Force is expected to begin receiving twenty more F-35 fighter aircraft beginning in 2021.

Franz-Stefan Gady
South Korea to Procure 20 More F-35 Stealth Fighters
Credit: Lockheed Martin

South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) has announced earlier this month that 20 more F-35A Lightning II fifth-generation stealth fighters will be procured under the second phase of its F-X3 program.

“The government is preparing to launch the second phase of the F-X III in 2021 for the five years to come,” DAPA said in a report to the country’s National Assembly on October 7, according to Defense News.

The procurement of twenty additional F-35 fighter jets is estimated to cost around $3.35 billion. It is uncertain which version of the F-35 will be procured during the second phase of the F-X3 program.

The Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) is currently inducting the F-35A, the aircraft’s conventional takeoff and landing variant. Overall, the service will receive 40 F-35As by through 2021 under the U.S. Department of Defense’s Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program.

Total acquisition costs for the 40 conventional takeoff and landing aircraft are estimated at approximately $7 billion. The first two F-35As arrived in South Korea in March of this year. Eight F-35As have so far been delivered to South Korea.

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A total of 26 F-35As are scheduled to arrive in the country by the end of 2020. The ROKAF’s new F-35A fleet will reportedly be stationed at Cheongju airbase.

In July, North Korea threatened to “destroy” all the F-35As arriving in South Korea. Consequently, the South Korean military made an effort to induct the aircraft in a low-key manner in order not to provoke Pyongyang.

All 40 F-35As are being assembled at a Lockheed Martin production facility in Fort Worth, Texas, where the first ROKAF F-35A was rolled out in March 2018. ROKAF pilots are currently being trained to fly the new aircraft at Luke Air Force Base in the U.S. state of Arizona.

South Korea is reportedly also considering the F-35B, the aircraft’s short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) variant, as the National Assembly’s National Defense Commission is considering procuring a 30,000-ton landing platform helicopter (LPH) ship by the late 2020s capable of launching the F-35B.

The F-35B has been specifically designed to be launched from smaller carriers and amphibious assault ships. However, it appears more likely that South Korea will purchase additional twenty F-35A aircraft, according to a source at the Ministry of National Defense cited by Defense News.

“The state-funded Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, or KIDA, has concluded a study on the additional acquisition of F-35 aircraft, and the study is to suggest the introduction of more F-35As be more feasible,” the source was quoted as saying.

“There are two issues [with getting] the F-35B. First, it’s more expensive than the conventional-takeoff-and-landing version. Second, the deployment of a carrier-type landing ship is far away from now,” the source added.