F-35A fighters arrive from U.S. ahead of possible North test
Six U.S. F-35A fighter jets arrived in Korea on Tuesday to participate in joint drills, military authorities from both countries said.
Their arrival marks the first public deployment of America’s stealth warplanes in Korea in five years.
The F-35A, also known as the Lightning II, was developed by U.S. aerospace defense company Lockheed Martin.
It is a single-seat, single-engine, all-weather multirole combat aircraft capable of evading radar and designed to perform both air superiority and strike missions. It is also capable of conducting electronic warfare, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.
The deployment of the six F-35A fighters from the Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska came as Seoul and Washington are ramping up combined security and defense exercises amid warnings by intelligence experts and officials that Pyongyang could conduct a nuclear test.
During his June trip to Washington, Foreign Minister Park Jin told South Korean reporters there is “only a political decision left” before Pyongyang goes ahead with its seventh nuclear test.
North Korea has ramped up its military provocations this year, with 31 ballistic missile launches since Jan. 1, the most such launches in a single year, including an intercontinental ballistic missile on May 25. Its previous record was 25 missiles in 2019.
Recent satellite images of North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear testing site, the site for all of its six nuclear tests, suggested the regime is gearing up for a seventh nuclear test.
U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) said that the F-35A aircraft will join South Korean warplanes, including other F-35As, for “familiarization and routine training flights” intended to enhance interoperability, adding that the drills will run through July 14.
“The current deployment is aimed at demonstrating the South Korea-U.S. alliance’s strong deterrence and combined defense readiness, as well as improving interoperability between the two Air Forces,” Seoul's defense ministry said in a text message sent to reporters.
The last public deployment of the fifth-generation U.S. fighter jets to Korea came in December 2017, when the allies staged their then-regular Vigilant Ace training.
The arrival of the F-35A fighters on Tuesday followed an agreement from the May summit between President Yoon Suk-yeol and U.S. President Joe Biden, who said U.S. strategic military assets would be dispatched to Korea “in a timely and coordinated manner as necessary.”
The joint air force drills are just one of several being conducted by the allies to signal their readiness against a major North Korean provocation.
South Korea, the United States and Japan are also scheduled to conduct a combined missile detection and tracking exercise, known as Pacific Dragon, near Hawaii in August to guard against North Korean missiles.
Pacific Dragon will begin toward the end of the ongoing multinational Rim of Pacific Exercise (Rimpac) in Hawaii and southern California, where South Korea is also expected to participate.
Rimpac, which began on June 29 and will run through Aug. 4, focuses on improving tactical and technical coordination among its participants, including the detection, tracking and reporting of ballistic missiles.
BY MICHAEL LEE [firstname.lastname@example.org]