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South Korea Commits to Acquire 20 Additional F35 Aircraft

Feb 22, 2017
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Seoul to acquire more stealth jets, interceptors to counter North Korean threats​

$5.6 billion plan aims to bolster defenses against DPRK missiles and boost domestic drone development

South Korea will purchase additional F-35A stealth fighters and Standard Missile-6 (SM-6) interceptors from the U.S. to defend against North Korean missiles and other emerging threats, the country’s defense procurement agency announced Monday.

The Defense Project Promotion Committee has approved five projects amounting to some $5.6 billion (about 7.3 trillion won), according to a Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) press release.

The $2.9 billion (3.75 trillion won) project to acquire more Lockheed Martin F-35A jets through the U.S. government’s Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program over the next five years comes as the ROK seeks to bolster its three-axis system to deter and defend against North Korean attacks.

According to DAPA, the acquisition of additional F-35A aircraft is expected to strengthen Kill Chain, Seoul’s pre-emptive strike strategy to swiftly disable initial nuclear and ballistic missile threats under the three-axis system.

The press release did not disclose how many stealth fighters South Korea will purchase under this plan, but local media reported that it is likely to secure some 20 F-35A jets in addition to the 40 it currently operates.

The agency also announced plans to acquire U.S. manufacturer Raytheon’s SM-6 missiles through FMS by 2031. These interceptors will be mounted on the ROK navy’s KDX-III Batch-II Aegis destroyers as part of efforts to strengthen anti-aircraft defenses and the ability to counter enemy ballistic and cruise missiles.

South Korea will augment its existing arsenal of SM-2 ship-to-air missiles with the SM-6 interceptors.

The committee approved another proposal to develop a tactical ground-to-ground vehicle-loaded guided weapon to strengthen precision strike capabilities against major threats in the early stages of a war, DAPA said.

The procurement agency also plans to equip ROK navy destroyers with domestically mass-produced guided missiles to boost anti-aircraft interception capabilities.

Another key defense project involves domestic research and development of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that will be deployed to the border islands of Yeonpyeong and Baengnyeong near the inter-Korean maritime border, the press release said.

The emphasis on UAV development comes after five North Korean drones entered ROK airspace in late December and evaded South Korean air defenses for several hours before re-crossing the Demilitarized Zone.

South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol pledged to strengthen unmanned aerial capabilities in the aftermath of that incident, and leading aerospace firm Korea Aerospace Industries subsequently signed a deal with U.S. manufacturer Northrop Grumman to develop high-tech UAVs for the ROK navy.

The emphasis on domestic drone development was also evident in two announcements from South Korean organizations on Monday. The Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) announced a research project to develop new drone technologies, while aerospace company Hanwha Systems said that it successfully captured a UAV in a demonstration of its anti-drone system.


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