Senior Korean and US government, military and aerospace industry officials have witnessed the public debut of the first Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) F-35A Lightning II jets in Fort Worth, Texas.
South Korea is one of 12 countries procuring the fifth generation fighter, including Australia, with a total of 40 F-35As planned for acquisition through the US Government’s Foreign Military Sales program. All 40 will be built at Lockheed Martin's facility in Fort Worth.
Following earlier practice, the first aircraft will be delivered to Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, where ROKAF pilots and maintainers will begin training at the F-35 International Pilot Training Centre. F-35s will arrive in country in 2019 to South Korea’s main operational base at Cheong Ju.
Australia's first two Australian F-35s, AU-1 and AU-2, are expected to arrive in Australia from Luke in December, and Lockheed Martin plans to deliver the next eight Australian aircraft, AU-3 to AU-10, to Luke this year. The aircraft will then be delivered to Australia in pairs and are expected to achieve initial operating capability in 2020.
Australia will also be home to the F-35 South Pacific Regional Warehouse, operated by BAE Systems at RAAF Base Williamtown.
A number of European countries are reported to be considering acquiring F-35s in order to meet their obligations under NATO's nuclear sharing policy. The aircraft is capable of hosting tactical nuclear weapons and is thought to be more able to penetrate Russia's advanced air defences than fourth-generation aircraft currently in service throughout Europe.
In January, the US State Department approved the possible sale of 34 F-35s to Belgium for $6.53 billion. If the sale goes ahead, it would be the fourth foreign military sales customer for the F-35 following South Korea, Israel and Singapore.
Just this week, US Republican senators have been pushing President Donald Trump to consider the sale of the aircraft to Taiwan, amid heightening tensions between mainland China and the island state.