S. Korea’s first stealth fighter unveiled

By Yeo Jun-suk
  • Published : Mar 29, 2018 - 11:33
  • Updated : Mar 29, 2018 - 15:27

Following its first public debut of F-35A fighter jets, South Korea kick-started its efforts to deploy the fifth-generation stealth fighters amid growing uncertainty over the security landscape ahead of its summit with North Korea.

US aerospace giant Lockheed Martin unveiled its first batch of F-35A fighter jets to be delivered to South Korea on Wednesday in Fort Worth, Texas, USA. The event was celebrated by the allies’ senior acquisition and defense officials, including South Korea’s Vice Defense Minister Suh Choo-suk.

Starting from this year, a total of 40 fifth-generation stealth fighters are to be delivered by 2021 for operational deployment. A plane is reportedly priced at around 120 billion won ($112 million). The South Korean military is considering procuring 20 additional F-35A jets sometime in mid-2020. 

The first F-35A Lightning II jet for South Korea`s Air Force is unveiled during a ceremony at Lockheed Martin`s production facility in Fort Worth, Texas, on March 28, 2018. (Yonhap)

“It‘s true that a preliminary study is under way at the request of the military (for additional procurement),” said Kang Hwan-seok, spokesman for the Defense Acquisition Program Administration, “Once it’s done, we will craft an acquisition program strategy.”

The public debut of the South Korean stealth fighter jet came at a sensitive time when the allies struggle to deal with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un, who added another layer of uncertainty ahead of his historic summits with South Korea and the US by paying an “unofficial visit” to the Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

South Korea’s acquisition of an advanced weapon system has unnerved North Korea as the reclusive regime view it as direct threat to its leadership. Last week, Pyongyang’s state-run media issued a series of articles denouncing the military’s decision to purchase Taurus bunker-busting missiles.

If deployed as scheduled, the F-35A is expected to bolster South Korea’s capability to defend against North Korea’s ballistic missile threat. Equipped with precision strike capabilities, the stealth fighter will better destroy North Korea’s missile launch sites and command-and-control facilities.

“Based on advanced stealth capabilities, the F-35A will make a huge contribution to deterring the war as it can conduct selective strikes by sneaking into the enemy’s territory without further reinforcements,” the DAPA said in a statement.

The F-35A stealth fighter is capable of carrying precision-guided bombs such as Joint Direct Attack Munition and other devices for electronic warfare. Those capabilities allow the F-35A to operate deep in the North Korean territory without being shot down by the heavily-dense anti-missile system in Pyongyang, analysts said.

The military’s announcement for delivery came amid growing competition over the deployment of stealth fighters between countries in Northeast Asia, one of the most volatile regions peppered with lingering historic anonymity and burgeoning arms race. 

South Korea`s first F-35A stealth fighter jet conducts a test flight. (Photo courtesy of the Defense Acquisition Program Administration-Yonhap)

In January, the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force deployed its first F-35A Lightning II fifth-generation stealth fighter jet at Misawa Air Base in Aomori Prefecture. The announcement was followed by the reports that Japan plans to buy at least 20 additional F-35A stealth fighters over the next six years.

The move came after the deployment of China’s homegrown stealth fighters J-20, which the Chinese military said went into the combat service. The country’s fifth-generation fighter participated in a live-fire war game held in January.

By Yeo Jun-suk (