South Korea will buy additional Lockheed Martin F-35A fighters to bolster its combat capabilities, as it also lays the foundation for the mass production of the Korea Aerospace Industries Light Armed Helicopter (LAH).

Following an evaluation by the Defense Security Committee, Seoul has decided to obtain additional F-35As under the Next Fighter 2 requirement, says the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA).

ROKAF F-35A in 2022

Source: Republic of Korea Air Force

Seoul operates 39 examples of the F-35 after losing one to a major bird strike incident

DAPA states that the type plays a key role in South Korea’s kill chain, and that the aircraft will be obtained through the US government’s Foreign Military Sales (FMS) mechanism.

“By securing additional high-performance stealth fighter jets through this project, we will increase our ability to independently deter and respond to asymmetric threats such as North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missiles during war and peacetime,” says DAPA.

“In addition, we will build national-level depot maintenance capabilities, including full-scale painting capabilities, to increase aircraft utilisation rates. It is expected to contribute to improvement and reduction of operation and maintenance costs.”

The project will run from 2023-2028 and DAPA values it at approximately W4.3 trillion ($3.3 billion). While DAPA does not disclose the number of aircraft to be obtained, in a September FMS case the US government cleared Seoul to receive 25 F-35As and related equipment and services for $5.1 billion.

Seoul operates 39 F-35As, having lost one example to an accident stemming from a bird strike.

DAPA also says that an anti-corruption committee has cleared a mass production plan for the LAH, which will replace Bell AH-1S and MD Helicopters 500MDs in South Korean service.

The LAH project runs from 2022-2031 and is valued at approximately W5.8 trillion.

“Through this project, we plan to secure small armed helicopters with improved strike capabilities, mobility, and survivability, and operate them as the army’s core air force to destroy enemy armoured/mechanised units,” says DAPA.

DAPA also has confirmed a plan to obtain Embraer C-390 tactical transports in a programme valued at W710 billion.