Asia Defense | Security | East Asia

US Approves Sale of F-16 Upgrades for South Korean Air Force

The proposed sale has a value of $194 million.

Ankit Panda
US Approves Sale of F-16 Upgrades for South Korean Air Force
Credit: Photo by Staff Sgt. Nick Wilson/Released

The United States Department of State has approved a possible foreign military sale to South Korea for certain upgrades to the Republic of Korea Air Force’s (ROKAF) F-16 Block 32 aircraft, a press release noted on Monday. The U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified U.S. lawmakers of the approval on Monday as well. The sale is estimated to cost $194 million.

The approval covers the transfer of Mode 5 Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) packages and Link 16 Tactical Datalink (TDL) equipment. An IFF system allows military aircraft to use on-board radar to discriminate friendly aircraft; advanced IFF systems can also determine an aircraft’s bearing and speed. IFFs contribute to the prevention of friendly fire incidents and enhance command and control for large fleets of aircraft. The Mode 5 system that South Korea has requested is a cryptographically secure IFF designed for military use, built off a 1980s standard.

According to the U.S. Department of State, the full list of equipment approved for sale to South Korea includes “ARC-238 radios; AN/APX-126 Combined Interrogator Transponders; Joint Mission Planning (JMPS) upgrade; KY-58M secure voice module; Simple Key Loader (SKL) crypto fill devices; Precision Measurement Equipment Laboratory (PMEL); aircraft ferry support; training; Computer Program Identification Number System (CPINS); flight manuals; flight tests; [and] integration support and test equipment.”

South Korea is a U.S. treaty ally and the U.S. State Department noted that the “proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security objectives of the United States by meeting legitimate security and defense needs of one of the U.S.’s closest allies in the INDOPACOM Theater.” The primary contractor on the sale will be Lockheed Martin.

The ROKAF operates 10 squadrons of F-16C/D fighters, designated the KF-16C/D for their modifications. These fourth-generation fighters are based off the F-16 Block 52 and serve multiple roles in the ROKAF. The KF-16s are capable of air-to-air and air-to-ground attack missions and are armed with AIM-9 Sidewinder and AIM-120 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAMs). Specifically, the ROKAF operates 118 single-seat KF-16C  fighters and 45 twin-seat KF-16D. South Korea is also purchasing the F-35A Panther fifth-generation stealth multi-role aircraft.

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KF-16 fighters were license-produced in South Korea by Korea Aerospace Industries. “The proposed sale will improve the Republic of Korea’s capability to meet current and future threats by increasing its interoperability with U.S. Air Force and other coalition forces through an improved datalink and Mode 5 IFF, producing a more effective Alliance for its F-16 fleet,” the U.S. State Department noted, adding that the South Korean military would be able to easily absorb the new equipment into its existing forces.