South Korean F-35A Lightning II stealth fighters fly over the Korean Peninsula, Dec. 20, 2022.

South Korean F-35A Lightning II stealth fighters fly over the Korean Peninsula, Dec. 20, 2022. (South Korea’s Ministry of Nation)

CAMP HUMPHREYS, South Korea — The U.S. State Department has approved a potential sale of 25 F-35A Lightning IIs to South Korea for an estimated $5.06 billion, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency said Wednesday.

The department approved five more F-35As than South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration initially planned for in March. Seoul originally said it would ask for 20 of the joint strike fighters by 2028. 

South Korea’s plan to add “over 20” additional F-35As to its fleet would strengthen its capabilities against North Korean threats, a defense acquisition program officer told Stars and Stripes by phone Thursday. He declined to provide further details.

South Korean officials customarily speak to the media on condition of anonymity.

The possible deal includes 26 Pratt and Whitney F135-PW-100 gas turbine engines capable of producing over 40,000 pounds of thrust, and other components, for Lockheed Martin’s fifth-generation fighter.

“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 agency said in its release.

Seoul’s military already maintains roughly 40 F-35As purchased from the U.S. in 2014 for $7 billion.

South Korea can “meet current and future threats” with new F-35As and will ensure that its military and U.S. forces can operate together more seamlessly, the agency added.

The F-35 comes in three variants: the A can do conventional takeoffs and landings; the B is capable of short takeoffs and vertical landings; and the C is designed for arrested landings aboard aircraft carriers.

F-35As from the U.S. and South Korean air forces trained together for the first time in July 2022.

Six stealth jets from Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, flew to the peninsula for 10 days of “familiarization and routine training” with their South Korean counterparts, U.S. Forces Korea said at the time.

Since then, South Korean F-35As have flown numerous air drills with the U.S. Air Force. An unspecified number of South Korean F-35As took to the skies on July 28 for a “rapid and flexible response” drill with U.S. F-16 Fighting Falcons, according to a 7th Air Force news release.

David Choi is based in South Korea and reports on the U.S. military and foreign policy. He served in the U.S. Army and California Army National Guard. He graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles.

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