The Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) received the third and fourth of 40 F-35A Lightning II fifth-generation stealth fighters earlier this week, according to a report by Yonhap News Agency.
The two aircraft arrived at the ROKAF’s 17th Fighter Wing at a military air base in Cheong Ju, North Chungcheong province on July 15, the country’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) said in a statement.
The two F-35As–the aircraft’s conventional takeoff and landing variant–departed Luke Air Force Base in the U.S. state of Arizona a week ago. ROKAF pilots have been undergoing F-35A flight training at the base over the past few years and a South Korean pilot conducted his first F-35A solo mission there in July 2018.
As of April of this year, South Korea has also officially taken delivery of a total of six F-35As at Luke Air Force Base. Six more F-35As are expected to arrive in South Korea in 2019. All 40 F-35As are being assembled at a Lockheed Martin production facility in Fort Worth, Texas. The first ROKAF F-35A was rolled out there in March 2018.
All 40 F-35As are slated to be delivered by 2022 under the U.S. Department of Defense’s Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program. As I reported elsewhere:
The Republic of Korea and U.S. government officially signed a Letter of Offer and Acceptance for the purchase of 40 F-35A fighter jets in September 2014 under the Pentagon’s FMS program. Total acquisition costs are estimated at around $7 billion. (…)
The F-35A’s manufacturer, U.S. defense contractor Lockheed Martin, won the $7 billion contract by offering 25 technologies used on the F-35A to support South Korea’s indigenous $15 billion KF-X fighter program. However, the U.S. government did not share four key F-35A technologies including active electronically scanned radar, the infrared search-and-rescue systems, the electro-optical targeting pod and the radio frequency jammer, which detrimentally affected bilateral defense relations for a while.
Last week, North Korea threatened to “destroy” the F-35As arriving in South Korea in July. A senior North Korean official said that North Korea has “no other choice but to develop and test the special armaments to completely destroy the lethal weapons reinforced in South Korea.”
The first two F-35As arrived in South Korea in March of this year. South Korea is also considering placing a follow-up order of 20 F-35As with DAPA reportedly already having initiated their procurement. North Korea classifies the F-35A a “strategic asset” for the South.
The stealth fighter is a key component of South Korea’s so-called Kill-Chain pre-emptive strike program, which is part of South Korea’s strategy to deter North Korean military action.