South Korea has reportedly acquired only half of the weapons required to arm its F-35A Lightning II joint strike fighter (JSF) aircraft fleet.

In September, the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) purchased 40 F-35A conventional take off and landing (CTOL) variant jets from Lockheed Martin at an estimated cost of KRW7.34trn ($6.8bn).

However, the country has bought only half the weapons needed by the F-35As fighters during combat, The Chosun Ilbo reported, citing the air force data submitted to Saenuri Party lawmaker, Song Young-keun.

In particular, the ROKAF only bought 45% of air-to-air missiles that would be used against North Korean fighter jets and only 75% of the required number of air-to-ground missiles.

The weapons quantity suggests that the service can mobilise only 18 F-35As for air-to-air combat and 30 fighters for air-to-ground combat at one time in theatre.

An unnamed ROKAF officer said: "We couldn’t afford to pay attention to how to arm the F-35As because we concentrated on buying 40 of them."

Around 66% of the fighter project budget was spent on the aircraft purchase, while in comparison only 8% was spent on the acquisition of weapons and equipment.

"We couldn’t afford to pay attention to how to arm the F-35As because we concentrated on buying 40 of them."

In addition to this, the South Korean military is also being criticised for its plans to buy only one backup engine for the 40 aircraft rather than the usual four to six, or 10% to 15%, spare powerplants.

Each F-35A is armed with various weapons, including AIM-120 and AIM-9 air-to-air missiles and GBU-12, GBU-31 and GBU-39 air-to-ground missiles.

Under development for the US Air Force (USAF), the F-35A features internal carriage and external stations for missiles and bombs, and is designed to perform air-to-air and air-to-ground missions with stealth capability, which is claimed to be the primary reason for its selection.

Other two F-35 variants include the F-35B short take-off and vertical landing aircraft and F-35C carrier version.

Initial F-35A deliveries to South Korea are scheduled to start in 2018.

Image: An F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter aircraft in flight. Photo: courtesy of © 2014 Lockheed Martin Corporation.

Defence Technology