South Korea Inks Deal for 20 More F-35s

Deliveries of the Lockheed Martin Lightning II fighter jets are to begin in 2027.

F-35A Elephant walk in March 2022. [Courtesy: Republic of Korea Ministry of Defense]

South Korea will purchase an additional 20 Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II fighters, the country's military procurement agency has confirmed.

The purchase comes three months after the U.S. State Department approved a possible sale to the Republic of Korea for up to 25 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter conventional takeoff and landing aircraft, engines, and support that was estimated to cost more than $5 billion. 

On Wednesday, South Korea's Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) confirmed that it signed a letter of acceptance in early December for the purchase of the fighter jets from Lockheed Martin, Yonhap News Agency reported.

The purchase is in response to "power imbalances" presented by North Korea nuclear and missile threats, according to Stars and Stripes.

"Although North Korea has more fighter jets, their operation rate is known to be extremely low due to poor maintenance from a lack of parts," Shin Jong-woo, a senior analyst at the Korea Defense & Security Forum, told Yonhap.

The Republic of Korea Air Force currently operates 39 F-35s out of Cheongju Air Base. The latest round of purchased fighters will have enhanced arms operational capabilities and security features, DAPA said. 

Deliveries will begin in 2027.

The order bolsters a growing tally of the fighter jets operating in the region. By 2035, more than 300 F-35s will be stationed across the Indo-Pacific, according to Lockheed Martin.

"The F-35 is boosting allied deterrence, continuing to strengthen national security and international alliances across militaries, governments, and industry in the region,” said Bridget Lauderdale, vice president and general manager of the F-35 Program with Lockheed Martin. 

Kimberly is managing editor of FLYING Digital.

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