US approves $5 Bn F-35 multirole fighter jet sale to South Korea

On September 14, 2023, the United States approved a $5 billion sale of 25 F-35A fighter jets to South Korea. The State Department informed the Congress of the decision and issued a statement clarifying the purposes of the sale.

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US approves 5 Billion F 35 Sale to South Korea 925 ROKAF F-35A Lightning II (Picture source: Lockheed Martin)

The Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) has been operating F-35A fighter jets since 2018. As of now, South Korea operates 40 F-35As. The initial order for these aircraft was placed in 2013, with deliveries taking place between 2019 and 2022. The recent approval of the $5-billion sale will bring South Korea's total F-35A fleet to 65 aircraft. The ROKAF is using the F-35As to replace its older fleet of McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II fighter jets.

The approval of the sale comes amid growing tensions with North Korea, which recently conducted missile tests and keeps doing it, which is repeatedly condemned by the United Nations. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un also visited Russia to discuss arms deliveries with President Vladimir Putin.

It should be noted that South Korea is also developing its own new generation fighter jet, the KF-21, which presents many similarities with the F-35. This indigenous development could have implications for South Korea's long-term defense strategy. The question of interoperability between the F-35s and KF-21s will need to be considered in the future.

The United States has recently strengthened its cooperation with Japan and South Korea. A summit was held last month at Camp David, where the leaders of the United States, South Korea, and Japan discussed various challenges, including North Korea.