Arms regulators in Washington have approved South Korea to purchase $271 million worth of armaments for the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) fleet of Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighters.
The US Department of State, which approves weapons exports, said on 1 December the request from Seoul will improve the ROKAF’s ability to meet current and future threats, while also deterring aggression.
“This proposed sale will support the foreign policy goals and national security objectives of the United States by improving the security of a major ally that is a force for political stability and economic progress in the Indo-Pacific region,” the state department says.
The deal covers a range of air-to-air and air-to-ground lethal munitions, including 39 AIM-120C-8 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAMs), 86 Boeing Joint Direct Attack Munition precision bombs, 269 Lockheed Martin Paveway II laser-guided munitions, 35 Boeing Small Diameter Bomb (SDB) glide munitions and 118 Raytheon Stormbreaker all-weather precision glide bombs, also called the SDB II.
Approval for the munitions purchase comes three months after Seoul received clearance to purchase an additional 25 F-35 stealth fighters from Lockheed. That deal was valued at $5.1 billion by US regulators.
The ROKAF already operates a fleet of 40 F-35As. According to Cirium fleets data, this makes South Korea the world’s third largest F-35 operator after the USA and Australia.
South Korea’s neighbour, Japan, operates 36 F-35s, but this number will grow to over 140, comprising the F-35A and the F-35B, the type’s short take-off and vertical landing version.