South Korea Takes Delivery of 1st F-35A Stealth Jet
David Song, March 29, 2018, 8:45 a.m.
South Korea took delivery of the first F-35A stealth fighter jet at the Lockheed Martin plant in Fort Worth, Texas on Wednesday, becoming only the third Asian country with stealth jets after China and Japan. Testifying to the event's significance to the two allies were some 380 dignitaries, including Vice Defense Minister Suh Choo-suk, Ellen Lord, the U.S. under secretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, Marc Knapper, the chargé d'affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, Gen. Vincent Brooks, the commander of the U.S. Forces Korea.
The military originally intended to tone down the handover ceremony to spare North Korea's feelings ahead of an inter-Korean summit. But it changed its mind amid criticism that it was pandering to a rogue regime.
South Korean Air Force pilots will train in the first batch of F-35As at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona in May. Once they finish training, F-35As will be flown to South Korea next year.
A total of 40 F-35As will be delivered over the next four years at a rate of 10 a year. U.S. President Donald Trump's visit to South Korea last November prompted the government to consider buying 20 more. Each costs about US$100 million.
The stealth jets will give the South Korea a key part of the "kill chain" preemptive strike system against nuclear and missile attacks from North Korea.
North Korea has the world's tightest air defense system in and around Pyongyang, but the F-35As can dodge radar detection and strike the North's nuclear and missile facilities as well as key installations in Pyongyang, allegedly with pinpoint accuracy.
They can fly a distance of 2,200 km at a maximum speed of Mach 1.8, carrying more than 8 tons of missiles and precision guided bombs. It is also capable of electronic warfare like jamming radar and gathering information on radio frequencies, and acting as a small early warning and control aircraft.
Stealth fighters are a main current area of the arms race. Japan deployed the first batch of F-35As at Misawa Air Base in Aomori last month. China has its own J-20 homegrown stealth fighters that it deployed in the Shandong Peninsula early this year, and Russia is developing the Su-57 PAK-FA new fifth-generation stealth jet.