The South Korean Air Force took over two F-35A fighter jets from the United States at a key base Friday, acquiring fighter jets with stealth capabilities for the first time.
The Defense Acquisition Program Administration here said the two fighters took off from Luke Air Force Base in Arizona on Wednesday and arrived at the air base in Cheongju, North Chungcheong Province, at 2:35 p.m.
After the fighter jets are completely combat deployed in April or May, South Korea would join the list of countries that have stealth warplanes, including China, Japan and Russia.
An official deployment ceremony will take place in the next two months, DAPA said.
In 2014, the South Korean government decided to purchase 40 F-35As for deployment with about 7.4 trillion won ($6.8 billion) — the biggest amount for the purchase of a weapon system.
Ten F-35A fighters, manufactured by US defense firm Lockheed Martin, are set to arrive in South Korea by the end of this year, with the total of 40 set to be transferred to South Korea by 2021.
According to DAPA, the two planes will undergo domestic processes to be combat-deployed to the Air Force by April or May.
“(The fighter jets) are transferred following a planned schedule, and we expect the Air Force’s operational capabilities to be boosted to establish a strong defense posture as neighboring countries also phase in stealth fighters,” Defense Acquisition Minister Wang Jung-hong said.
While the deployment of the stealth fighters is expected to enhance Seoul’s defense capabilities, North Korea has expressed concerns.
In January, Pyongyang warned that the introduction of the F-35As could affect efforts to improve inter-Korean military ties, via Rodong Sinmun, the newspaper of the North’s ruling Workers’ Party.
By Jo He-rim (email@example.com)