Daily Newsletter

15 September 2023

Daily Newsletter

15 September 2023

As Kim Jong Un embraces Russia’s war, US clears South Korea to buy F-35 jets

The purchase of another 25 F-35s marks a significant milestone for US-ROK relations.

Andrew Salerno-Garthwaite September 15 2023

Against the backdrop of North Korean Dictator Kim Jong Un’s visit to Russia this week, the US State Department approved on 13 September the possible Foreign Military Sale of 25 F-35 Jets to South Korea, in a deal with Lockheed Martin worth $5.06bn that is intended to deter aggression in the region.

South Korea already has a fleet of 40 F-35 fighter aircraft, giving the Republic of Korea (ROK) a “credible deterrent posture”, notes Kandlikar Venkatesh, defence analyst at GlobalData, but the purchase of another 25 F-35s marks a significant milestone for US-ROK relations. 

This sale will be for the Conventional Take-Off and Landing (CTOL) ‘A’ variant of the F-35 aircraft, designed mainly as a low-visibility aircraft with air-to-ground attack and air-to-air combat capabilities.

Venkatesh also notes that the sale represents a “proactive approach to safeguarding peace in an increasingly complex security environment and signifies that it is fully prepared to defend its interests against potential threats from its northern neighbour on the Korean peninsula.”

“The addition of another 25 units of F-35As to its arsenal,” said Venkatesh, “not only enhances its air defence capabilities but can also be seen as a strategic move that addresses the concerning dynamics of aggression from North Korea amid its growing closeness to Russia as well as the rising regional assertiveness of China.”

North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un visited Russia this week on a state visit to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin. During the visit, seen by outside analysts as intended to establish an arms deal between the two nations, Kim Jong Un gave his full commitment to Putin and Russia’s war in Ukraine. 

It is thought that North Korea seeks technical assistance from Russia for its intercontinental ballistic missile program, central to the nuclear threat the nation is developing, while Russia badly needs a replenishment in artillery ammunition – a resource North Korea has stockpiled in abundance during its 70 year armistice with South Korea. 

While commentators had speculated that Kim Jong Un had not achieved all of the goals set out during the visit to Russia, the BBC reported 14 September, that Kim Jong Un will be unexpectedly extending the duration of his visit to Russia by several days. 

South Korea has been supporting the procurement ambitions of Poland to an unprecedented extent during the war in Ukraine, ramping up supply of platforms and equipment while Poland backfills against the inventory it is donating to Ukraine, provoking threats from Russian establishment figures.

Over the next decade, South Korea plans to spend over $16.8bn on acquiring a wide variety of military fixed-wing aircraft, including both domestically designed platforms like the KF-21 and foreign designs like the F-35s, according to GlobalData. 

“Once acquired,” says Venkatesh, “the presence of more numbers of F-35s in the ROK Air Force’s inventory will increase the collective air defence capabilities of regional allies, leading to greater stability in the Indo-Pacific Region.”

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