SEOUL — South Korea will buy 20 more F-35A fighter jets from the United States, as a part of its F-X project focused on acquiring foreign stealth fighter jets from 2023 to 2028.

The nation’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration’s promotion committee, led by Defense Minister Jong-sup Lee, on July 15 formally decided to buy 20 additional F-35As for 3.9 trillion Korean won (nearly $3 billion). South Korea plans to acquire them by 2028.

The Air Force will then have a total of 60 F-35As, as the military already operates 40 F-35A Block-Is.

The South Korean government and military plan to complete a feasibility test this year and establish a concrete acquisition plan early next year.

DAPA expects the airpower gap created by retiring outdated fighter jets of the ROK Air Force to be supplemented by the new F-35As, which are also meant to strengthen the country’s deterrence.

The plan to acquire additional F-35As already went through feasibility tests and demand verification process in 2018 and 2019, but the previous government preferred a light aircraft carrier and F-35Bs. When the new government took office this year, more serious concerns about the ROKAF’s outdated fighter jets and increasingly advanced North Korean nuclear weapons prompted Seoul to switch its defense acquisition priorities.

Daehan Lee was a South Korea correspondent for Defense News. He had previously worked at the U.S. and Belgian embassies in Seoul, for the People Power Party, and for election camps. He also served as a translator for the South Korean Navy. His interests include Asia-Pacific security, defense acquisition, South Korean politics and foreign policy.

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