Asia Defense

US, ROK, Japan to Deploy Over 100 F-35 Fighter Jets Near North Korea by 2020s

More F-35 fighter jets could soon be deployed to South Korea and Japan.

US, ROK, Japan to Deploy Over 100 F-35 Fighter Jets Near North Korea by 2020s
Credit: Raytheon Company

The United States, the Republic of Korea (ROK) and Japan will likely deploy up to a 100 new F-35 fighter jets close to North Korea by 2021, according to Aviation Week. South Korean Yonhap news agency reports that the first new F-35 fighter jets could be stationed Korea and Japan “soon.”

As I noted previously, the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) will start receiving the first fifth-generation stealth multirole Joint Strike Fighter F-35As — the aircraft’s conventional takeoff and landing variant — in 2018. All 40 F-35A aircraft are expected to be delivered by 2021. South Korea has been considering purchasing 20 more fighter jets. “While South Korea reduced the original request from 60 to 40 aircraft, the [2014] agreement between the United States and South Korea stipulates that 20 additional F-35A fighter jets can be procured at a later stage depending on the security environment on the Korean peninsula,” I explained. Lockheed Martin was able to secure the $7 billion defense deal by promising to transfer F-35 technologies to South Korea to help kick start Seoul’s indigenous KF-X stealth fighter aircraft program.

The Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) has begun receiving its first F-35As this year through the U.S. Foreign Military Sales Program. Japan’s Ministry of Defense selected the F-35A in December 2011 following the F-X competitive bidding process. The JASDF are expected to induct a total of 42 new F-35As in the coming years. Like South Korea, Japan is also considering placing a follow-up order as the JASDF intends to procure 100 new fifth-generation air superiority fighter by the 2030s. JASDF is considering arming its F-35 fleet with long-range standoff missiles and guided bombs including the long-range, precision-guided Joint Strike Missile (JSM), the Joint Air to Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM), and the GBU-31JDAM (Joint Direct Attack Munition) air-to-ground guided bomb.

In January, the U.S. Marine Corps has deployed its first F-35B squadron to Japan. The F35B is the U.S. Marine Corps variant of the supersonic fifth-generation F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, capable of vertical or short takeoffs and vertical landings without requiring a catapult launcher. The U.S. Marine Corps Fighter Attack Squadron 121 is currently made up of 16 F-35B aircraft, eight of which participated in the eight week-long U.S.-ROK  Foal Eagle exercise in March. Other F-35A squadrons will follow. The U.S. Air Force is preparing to deploy the 34th Fighter Squadron to the Pacific region by the end of 2017. The U.S. Navy is also deploying one of its largest surface warships, the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Wasp, to Japan in the fall of 2017. The ship will be able to operate the F-35B from its flight deck.