US approves sale of 25 F-35 fighters to South Korea

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The United States State Department has approved a Foreign Military Sale (FMS) to South Korea worth $5.06 billion.  

The potential deal includes the purchase of up to 25 Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fifth-generation fighters, 26 Pratt & Whitney F135-PW-100 engines, munitions, logistics, and training support. 

“The proposed sale will improve the Republic of Korea’s capability to meet current and future threats by providing credible defense capability to deter aggression in the region and ensure interoperability with US forces,” the State Department said in a notification. 

This order takes place in a tense regional context. North Korea’s military conducted a simulated tactical nuclear strike on August 30, 2023, in response to a joint military exercise by the United States and South Korea. 

These additional aircraft would supplement the existing 40 F-35s in the fleet of the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF). The initial order for these aircraft was placed in 2013, with deliveries taking place between 2019 and 2022, making South Korea one of the first nations with a substantial fleet of fifth-generation fighter jets. 

Since 2017, South Korea has been considering the acquisition of more F-35As and exploring the potential procurement of a fleet of F-35Bs, which would be capable of operating from the Republic of Korea Navy’s Dokdo-class amphibious assault ships. 

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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