More F-35 stealth fighters are headed to South Korea: On Tuesday, six United States Air Force Lockheed Martin F-35A Lighting II jet aircraft landed in South Korea, as part of a 10-day visit that will include joint exercises. This is the first publicly announced visit of the advanced fifth-generation stealth fighters to South Korea since December 2017, and it was in response to nuclear-armed North Korea’s increased aggressive stance.
Reuters reported that joint military drills between the United States and South Korea had been scaled back in recent years, beginning in 2018 as efforts to engage diplomatically with Pyongyang, but then later because of the global Covid-19 pandemic.
However, North Korea has appeared to be preparing to test a nuclear weapon for the first time since 2017, and as a show of force, the half dozen U.S. Air Force F-35s have been deployed to South Korea. The aircraft have been sent from Eielson Air Force Base (AFB), Alaska.
Countering North Korean Aggression
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, who took office in May, has been quite direct in responding to North Korean aggression with public displays of power, including joint military exercises.
“The purpose of this deployment is to demonstrate the strong deterrent and joint defence posture of the U.S.-ROK alliance while at the same time improving the interoperability between the ROK (South Korea) and U.S. Air Force,” the South Korean ministry of defense said via a statement to Reuters.
It was also announced that the U.S. Air Force’s F-35s will operate with some of South Korea’s own Lightning II aircraft in the joint drills. South Korea is one of more than a dozen United States allies and partners around the world to operate the Lockheed Martin-built aircraft, and it has to date purchased a total of 40 of F-35A models. The government in Seoul recently announced plans to acquire an additional 20 fifth-generation aircraft as a deterrent against North Korea as well as China.
South Korea is currently one of just a few nations to operate a significant number of fifth-generation jets.
The initial order for the F-35 was placed in 2013, and the jets were delivered between 2019 and 2022. The first F-35A for the ROKAF, known as aircraft AW-1, made its public debut in late March 2018 and pilot training began at Luke AFB, Ariz. in spring 2018. Aircraft was delivered to Chongju Air Base in 2019 to meet South Korea’s national security requirements.
In March, the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) carried out a number of training exercises with its F-35As, including an “elephant walk” with 28 of the aircraft on display. That action came just a day after North Korea had test-launched a “monster” Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM).
The F-35As in service with the ROKAF will operate alongside the domestically-developed and indigenously-produced KAI KF-21 Borame stealth jet fighter, which is expected to enter service in 2026.
Despite its own saber-rattling, North Korea has denounced the upcoming joint exercises as well as South Korea’s recent weapons purchases.
Now a Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes.