Asia Defense | Security | East Asia

South Korea to Publicly Display F-35A Stealth Fighter for First Time in October

The Republic of Korea Air Force will publicly display the F-35A for the first time during Armed Forces Day on October 1.

Franz-Stefan Gady
South Korea to Publicly Display F-35A Stealth Fighter for First Time in October
Credit: Lockheed Martin

The Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) will for the first time publicly showcase one of its F-35A Lightning II fifth-generation stealth fighters during Armed Forces Day at the service’s 11th Fighter Wing base in the southeastern city of Daegu on October 1.

The public exhibition could also include a flyby by the stealth fighter jet, according to local media reports. This year’s Republic of Korea Armed Forces Day coincides with the 70th anniversary of the founding of the ROKAF.

To date, the ROKAF has handled the induction into service of the first eight F-35As in a low-key manner in order to not overtly provoke North Korea, which considers the aircraft a “strategic asset” threatening the country’s national security.

In July, Pyongyang threatened to “destroy” all the F-35As arriving in South Korea. Up till now, the ROKAF has taken delivery of eight F-35As — the aircraft’s conventional takeoff and landing variant.

A senior North Korean official was quoted as saying at the time 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.”

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Four more F-35A aircraft are expected to arrive in South Korea by year’s end. All forty aircraft are expected to be delivered by 2021 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.

The first two F-35As arrived in South Korea in March of this year. ROKAF pilots are currently being trained to fly the new aircraft at Luke Air Force Base in the U.S. state of Arizona. A ROKAF pilot also conducted his first F-35A solo mission in July 2018 there. In South Korea, the ROKAF’s new F-35A fleet will reportedly be stationed at Cheong Ju airbase.

South Korea is expected to place a follow-up order of 20 F-35As with the country’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) reportedly already having started the procurement process.