South Korea acquires new batch of 20 F-35A stealth fighters

ROK MOD image

South Korea has officially announced the acquisition of 20 new F-35A stealth fighters.  

On December 27, 2023, the South Korean Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) confirmed the signing of a letter of acceptance with the US government for the purchase of the advanced fighter aircraft manufactured by Lockheed Martin. 

The deal comes after Washington’s authorization in September 2023, which greenlit the acquisition of up to 25 Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fifth-generation fighters. 

The new aircraft are expected to join the South Korean Air Force (ROKAF) fleet starting in 2027, complementing the 39 F-35As already in service. 

According to DAPA, the incoming F-35As will feature improved weapons operation and enhanced security capabilities compared to the current fighter jets. 

The decision to acquire these fifth-generation fighters aligns with South Korea’s so-called three-axis defense system, which comprises the Korea Massive Punishment & Retaliation (KMPR) system, the Kill Chain preemptive strike system, and the Korea Air and Missile Defense (KAMD) anti-missile shield. 

“The F-35A is a key force that shapes the Korean three-axis system as a game-changer, responding to North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missiles and resolving power imbalances with neighboring countries,” commented DAPA. 

The first batch of F-35As was delivered and deployed domestically between 2019 and 2022. The additional fighters from the second project are anticipated to have significantly improved performance, including enhanced threat response capabilities, encryption/security functions, and armed operation capabilities. 

South Korea is also developing its indigenous fighter jet, the KF-21 Boramae, as part of a joint program with Indonesia. Mass production of the KF-21 fighter is anticipated to commence by 2026.  

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