US approves sale of F-35 weapons to South Korea

The US State Department has given the green light to a military sale to the Republic of Korea. This agreement involves ammunition and equipment for the F-35 worth approximately $271 million.

Sale details and main contractors

The Republic of Korea has requested the acquisition of a variety of munitions and equipment, including 39  AIM-120C-8 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles ( AMRAAM ), 88 KMU-556 tail kits for the GBU-31v1 Joint Direct-Attack Munition (JDAM), and 118 GBU-53 increment 2 small diameter bombs (SDB-II), among others. The prime contractors in this agreement will be Lockheed Martin Corporation,  Raytheon Missiles and Defense, and the Boeing Company.

In November 2013, the Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff Council recommended the purchase of 40 F-35As. At the time, North Korea was struggling to counter aircraft that could evade its radars. In January 2014, the Defense Acquisition Program Administration indicated that a contract for these 40 aircraft would be reviewed. Once approved, it would be signed in September of the same year.

Deliveries were anticipated to begin in 2018, with South Korea benefiting from the scaled production of the F-35 at that time. The recurring unit cost of an F-35A is expected to be between $80 million and $85 million. Due to the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) agreement and past budget issues, the cost projection is likely to increase. South Korea is the third FMS country to acquire the F-35A after Israel and Japan.

Increase in F-35 Acquisition by Korea.

In December 2017, it was reported that the Defense Acquisition Program Administration had established a process to acquire another 20 F-35 aircraft in addition to the 40 it had already ordered in 2014. In late 2017, it was reported that the military Korea was considering operating F-35B aircraft from Dokdo-class amphibious assault ships operated by the Korean Navy.

The first F-35A was delivered in Fort Worth, Texas, on March 28, 2018. The aircraft will remain in the United States as South Korean crews begin training with the aircraft at Luke Air Force Base. The arrival of the first F-35s in South Korea occurred in March 2019, when two F-35As were delivered to a base in Cheongju. As of December 2019, 13 F-35As of the 17th Fighter Wing have been declared operational in the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF).

The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II

The  Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II  is an American family of single-seat, single-engine, all-weather stealth multirole fighter aircraft. It is intended to carry out both air superiority and attack missions.

To maintain its stealthy profile, the F-35 has two internal weapons bays, each with two weapons stations. Each of the two exterior weapons stations can carry ammunition of up to 1,100 kg (2,500 lb) or 680 kg (1,500 lb) in the case of the F-35B.

Air-to-surface weapons for the outer station include the  Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM), the  Paveway series of bombs, the  Joint Standoff Weapon (JSOW), and cluster munitions (Wind-Corrected Munitions Dispenser). The station can also carry multiple smaller munitions, such as the  GBU-39 Small Diameter Bombs (SDB),  GBU-53/B SDB II, and SPEAR 3 anti-tank missiles.