South Korea Delays Deployment of New Stealth Fighters
John Kim, May 22, 2019, 9:25 a.m.
The South Korean military is delaying plans to deploy a first batch of new F-35A stealth fighter jets warfare-ready until the second half of this year, a spokesman said Tuesday. "A ceremony had been planned to deploy them warfare-ready before June, but the schedule is being delayed," the spokesman said. "It will highly likely be held after July."
Two of the fighter jets were delivered from a plant in the U.S. to an air base in Cheongju in March.
"Normally the date for such ceremony is arranged depending on the defense minister's schedule and other situations," the spokesman added. "When we bought F-15K fighter jets in the past, we held the ceremony several months after we took the delivery of the first batch."
But there is speculation that the delay aims to appease North Korea. Some government officials have urged the military to tread softly for the sake of dialogue with the North.
The F-35A is considered the core of South Korea's "kill chain" preemptive strike system against missile attacks. The North has repeatedly complained of plans to deploy the fighter jets and warned that "military confrontation could spoil the atmosphere for better relations."
It denounced the handover ceremony at the Lockheed Martin plant in Fort Worth, Texas in late March last year as "a criminal act against the nation."