July 15, 2022
SEOUL – F-35 stealth fighters from the South Korean and the US air forces teamed up for the first time for four days of combined aerial drills, as the allies move to enhance interoperability and combined defense posture against North Korea’s escalating threats.
South Korea and the US conducted combined military exercises involving fifth-generation F-35A fighter jets in South Korean airspace from Monday to Thursday, South Korea’s Air Force announced Thursday.
Around 30 aircraft — which include South Korea’s F-35A, F-15K, KF-16 and FA-50 fighters and the US’ F-16 Fighting Falcons and six F-35A stealth fighters — joined the aerial exercises.
The occasion marks the first time that F-35A stealth fighter jets from the two countries participated together in combined drills since the delivery of 40 F-35As was completed in January. The F-35A is widely considered the world’s most advanced fighter jet.
During the air combat training, the South Korean and US air forces conducted major combined air operations and missions, including airborne alert interdiction and defensive counter-air while forming a virtual friendly force and enemy.
The strike package comprising various South Korean and US fighter jets also carried out offensive air operations in a realistic training environment.
“South Korea and the United States plan the exercises to enhance our combined operational capability by conducting actual combat training and increase the interoperability of the fifth-generation F-35A fighter jets that the two countries have operated,” South Korea’s Air Force said in a press statement.
The actual combat aerial training also aims to strengthen the alliance’s capability to integrate the fourth- and fifth-generation fighters of South Korea and the US and “maintain firm South Korea-US combined defense posture.”
“This is the crucial training that represents the ironclad South Korea-US alliance and combined defense posture,” said Maj. Kwon Hae-bin, a F-35A pilot from South Korea’s 17 Fighter Wing at the 151 Fighter Squadron. “Through the training, Air Force pilots from the two countries were able to exchange tactics and operational knowhow concerning fifth-generation fighters.”
A total of six F-35A stealth fighter jets flew from Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska on July 5 for their scheduled 10-day training mission.
The United States Air Force has dispatched its six F-35 stealth fighters to the Korean Peninsula for combined military exerices for the first time since December 2017. At that time, the allies staged a now-suspended large-scale Vigilant Ace air exercise while tensions heightened on the Korean Peninsula in the aftermath of North Korea’s sixth nuclear test in September 2017.
South Korea’s Defense Ministry said Thursday that the deployment of the US stealth fighters is the follow-up measure to an agreement forged by South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and US President Joe Biden during their May 21 summit.
The two leaders reaffirmed the US’ commitment to deploying US strategic assets “in a timely and coordinated manner as necessary” and agreed to step up combined military exercises in response to North Korea’s evolving threats.
Biden also affirmed the US extended deterrence commitment to South Korea “using the full range of US defense capabilities, including nuclear, conventional and missile defense capabilities.”
The rare deployment of the US F-35 fighter jets comes as South Korea and the US have reinforced security cooperation at a juncture when North Korea has conducted record-breaking ballistic missile launches and is believed to complete preparations ahead of a seventh nuclear test.
The F-35A multirole fighters — which have precision strike capabilities capable of evading radar detection — play a pivotal role in South Korea’s Kill Chain preemptive strike platform.
North Korea has repeatedly leveled blistering criticism of South Korea’s purchase of the F-35, as its military does not have surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities to detect radar-evading fighter jets.
North Korea’s Foreign Ministry lambasted the US for deploying F-35 fighters and reconnaissance aircraft to the Korean Peninsula in a statement issued Tuesday on its official website, claiming that the basic mission of the F-35s is to “destroy core targets of North Korea.”
The ministry underscored that the US move clearly shows the “US ambition to stifle North Korea by force,” warning of the consequences of deploying the US military assets.
“The US’ racket of reckless military provocations has created an extremely dangerous situation on the Korean Peninsula where war can break out at any time,” the statement said.