Seoul, South Korea
F-35 stealth fighter jets from the United States and South Korea are cooperating for the first time in a 10-day exercise aimed at sending a message to North Korea.
Six US Air Force F-35A fighters from Elson Air Force Base in Alaska arrived in South Korea on Tuesday and will fly F-35s from the host country in a series of exercises ending on July 14, the two armies said.
“This deployment aims to enhance (our air force’s) interoperability while demonstrating the alliance’s common deterrence and defensive posture,” the South Korean Defense Ministry said.
A South Korean spokesperson said this is the first time that the two allies’ stealth fighters have worked together.
Experts say stealth fighters capable of evading Pyongyang’s radars will be vital in any action against North Korea.
The deployment of US fighters is a clear sign of the commitment US President Joe Biden made to his South Korean counterpart, Yoon Seok-yeol, when the two met in Seoul in May.
“Given the evolving threat posed by (North Korea), the two leaders agree to begin discussions to expand the scope and scale of joint military exercises and training in and around the Korean Peninsula,” the White House said after the two leaders met. The two leaders also reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to deploying strategic US military assets in a timely and coordinated manner as necessary.
Tensions with North Korea have risen in recent months. Pyongyang has been testing missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads at a record pace, with at least 17 launches this year.
The US military said the US F-35s will operate alongside other US planes as they are deployed, without giving details.
But work with the South Korean F-35 is the main event.
The F-35 is one of the most advanced combat aircraft in the world. The United States operates hundreds of aircraft, which come in three configurations, the F-35A conventional take-off and landing, which are operated by the Air Force; Marine Corps F-35Bs, which can land vertically; and the F-35C, adapted for aircraft carrier operations.
Like the US Air Force, the South Korean Air Force flies the F-35A, with its first aircraft being delivered by manufacturer Lockheed Martin in 2018. Its fleet of 40 fifth-generation aircraft began operating at full capacity this spring.
On March 25, the day after one of Pyongyang’s missile tests, Seoul staged an “elephant march” for its F-35 fleet, all at once lined up on a runway in a show of force.
Then Defense Minister Suh Wook said, “By using the F-35A stealth fighter, a stealth force capable of stealth infiltration and precision strike, we will achieve an overwhelming strategic victory and maintain a complete military posture that will deter further actions by North Korea.” During an elephant walk.
The last reported deployment of US F-35s to South Korea came in 2017, when they joined forces with F-22 stealth fighters in what was described at the time as the largest concentration of fifth-generation fighter jets ever in South Korea.
Those warplanes were part of a massive annual US-South Korea exercise called Vigilant Ace, which was later canceled under the Donald Trump administration as the then US president tried to lure North Korea’s Kim Jong Un to abandon its nuclear missile programs.
After three meetings between Trump and Kim failed to reach an agreement, North Korea ramped up its missile program. The United States and South Korea fear that Pyongyang will soon attempt to test a nuclear weapon, something it has not done since 2017.