WASHINGTON ― Officials from South Korea and the United States gathered in Fort Worth, Texas, Wednesday to celebrate the public debut of the South Korean Air Force’s first F-35A Lightning II multirole fighter jet. Both a celebration of interoperable military hardware and shared values, officials from the two nations emphasized the F-35A will serve to protect peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.
Speaking before delegates from South Korea’s National Assembly and Air Force, Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson said the F-35A “will be a symbol of strength, reminding us all that when we partner together, our nations are safer, our people are more secure and our future is brighter.”
“The F-35A will not only deliver tremendous capability to ROK, it also reinforces our alliance and further strengthens our defense relationship,” Ellen Lord, the U.S. undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, said, using an acronym for the Republic of Korea, the South’s official name. “The U.S.-ROK alliance remains iron clad, and this ceremony is one example of how the unity and cooperation between our two great nations will continue for years to come.”
While South Korean officials agreed that partnership on the F-35 was both militarily and symbolically important, they stressed the importance of on-time delivery.
South Korean Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Seong-Yong Lee said that because the U.S. Air Force operates F-35s in South Korea, the aircraft’s addition to the fleet will “enhance the ROK and USAF interoperability and further strengthen the iron clad ROK-U.S. alliance.”
He added that his forces “need the aircraft to be manufactured on schedule and need our pilots, maintainers and support staff to be trained on time.”
South Korean Air Force pilots and maintainers will soon begin training on the aircraft at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona. F-35s will begin arriving at the Asian nation’s main operational base at Cheongju, South Korea, in 2019.
South Korea is one of 11 countries procuring the F-35, and it plans to acquire 40 F-35As through the U.S. Foreign Military Sales program.
Daniel Cebul is an editorial fellow and general assignments writer for Defense News, C4ISRNET, Fifth Domain and Federal Times.