The South Korean defense agency has authorized the acquisition of additional F-35A fighter jets as part of the country’s F-X program, integrated with the government’s retaliatory strike plan “Kill Chain,” to address North Korean nuclear and missile threats.

To discuss the F-X project, the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) attended a defense committee meeting on June 9, according to Daesik Kang of the governing People Power Party, a member of the National Assembly, according to  Defense News. By 2030, South Korea’s Air Force would get 20 F-35A fighters built by Lockheed Martin, according to DAPA. The defense bureau also mentioned that if more jets are ordered, the nation will spend 3.9 trillion won ($3 billion) by the following year.

An F-35A out of Eglin AFB on approach at Tyndall AFB, Florida. (Balon Greyjoy, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons)

ROK Air Force aims to acquire 20 more fifth-generation stealth multirole Joint Strike F-35As, known for their conventional take-off and landing prowess. This will reportedly improve its air combat effectiveness in an armed struggle with North Korea. The F-35A is equipped with “top-of-the-line” weaponry, including the Joint Direct Attack Munition, and has a top speed of Mach 1.8.

Given North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile technology gains, the lawmaker regarded the acquisition as “acceptable.”

“It is imperative that the ROKAF [South Korean Air Force] increase its counter-North Korea deterrence capabilities with F-X, as the lack of air power of the ROKAF is expected in the mid-2020s.”

DAPA is expected to speed up processes by as much as possible, shortening the project feasibility period to meet the committee’s deadline of July 13 for a final verdict. In addition, the South is developing a strategy to synchronously destroy all North Korean missile bases and other significant military installations in the event of a confrontation. This is why the expansion of ROK air power is a top priority.

As of December 2021, Lockheed Martin delivered all 40 F-35A Block 3 fighters the nation had purchased. The 20 more jets would be of the Block 4 variety, which has a superior electro-optic system, can carry more ammunition, and can interfere with opposing force radars and other electronic devices.

The North Korean Response

North Korea’s ballistic missile – North Korea Victory Day-2013. (Source: Stefan Krasowski, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Due to the F-35’s potential to dodge radars and infiltrate its territory, North Korea has protested the aircraft’s deployment in South Korea. As a result, Pyongyang threatened to annihilate every F-35A that arrived in South Korea in July 2019.