Republic of Korea Air Force F-35s during the Elephant Walk training
Republic of Korea Air Force F-35s during the Elephant Walk training

South Korea Approves $4 Billion Project to Buy F-35A Fighters by 2028

South Korea’s defense authorities approved a 3.94 trillion-won (US$2.97 billion) plan Friday to deploy some 20 additional F-35A radar-evading fighters by 2028 as part of efforts to counter North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats, according to the state arms procurement agency. The Defense Project Promotion Committee endorsed the nation’s second project to procure the stealth fighter manufactured by the U.S. defense giant Lockheed Martin. Under the first such project, South Korea has deployed 40 F-35As. The Kill Chain refers to the country’s preemptive strike program to be mobilized in a contingency.

It is expected that through this project, South Korea will be able to minimize the vacuum that could emerge as aging fighters are decommissioned, and add a core asset to the Kill Chain program to deter threats from all directions and quickly neutralize North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile threats. The South Korean Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) also approved a 1.4 trillion-won project to deploy an unspecified number of CH-47F Chinook helicopters manufactured by the U.S. firm Boeing by 2028. The project is designed to replace the aging fleet of CH-47D helicopters.

The Republic of Korea faces a unique and complex threat environment. The Republic of Korea selected the F-35 Lighting II for their F-X III fighter program in 2014. The ROKAF are currently taking deliveries of 40 F-35A Conventional Take Off and Landing (CTOL) aircraft. The ROKAF’s 17th Fighter Wing operates the F-35 out of Cheongju Air Base. There is speculation that the advance of the F-35A project will come at the expense of Republic of Korea Navy (RoKN) plans for the procurement of a 30,000t light aircraft carrier – dubbed CVX – and a similar accompanying number of about 20 F-35B variant short take-off and vertical landing aircraft.

The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is an American family of single-seat, single-engine, all-weather stealth multirole combat aircraft that is intended to perform both air superiority and strike missions. It is also able to provide electronic warfare and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities. Lockheed Martin is the prime F-35 contractor, with principal partners Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems. The aircraft has three main variants: the conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) F-35A, the short take-off and vertical-landing (STOVL) F-35B, and the carrier-based (CV/CATOBAR) F-35C.