• ROKAF F-35A at the ADEX 23 exhibition in Seoul.
Credit: Nigel Pittaway
    ROKAF F-35A at the ADEX 23 exhibition in Seoul. Credit: Nigel Pittaway

The US State Department has approved another potential Foreign Military Sales arms package for precision weapons to equip South Korea’s F-35A Lightning II fleet.

The Defense Security and Cooperation Agency (DSCA) announced on 1 December that approval had been given to South Korea’s request to buy a variety of air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons along with associated equipment and support. The estimated total program cost is US$271 million (A$407 million).

South Korea had requested to buy 39 Raytheon AIM-120C-8 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAM); 500- and 2000-lb (227- and 907-kg) bombs and guidance kits, with 342 500-lb Mk.82 bombs sought along with 86 Mk.84 and 70 BLU-109 2000-lb bombs. The latter is specially developed for attacking hardened targets such as bunkers.

The request also included guidance kits to transform the bombs into laser- and/or satellite-guided weapons, with South Korea seeking 88 KMU-556 tail kits for the GBU-31(v)1 Joint Direct-Attack Munition (JDAM), 70 KMU-557 tail kits for the GBU-31(v)3 JDAM, 78 KMU- 572 tail kits for the GBU-54 dual-mode Laser JDAM (LJDAM) and 269 MAU-169 and MAU-650 kits to the Mk.82 to turn them into GBU-12 laser-guided bombs

Also included in the request were 35 GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb-Increment 1 (SDB-I) and 118 GBU-53 Small Diameter Bomb-Increment 2 (SDB-II). The former is a 230-lb (113 kg) class GPS-guided bomb while the multi-mode SDB II enables moving target engagement capability with the inclusion of laser and millimetre-wave radar guidance.

Both SDB variants are carried in racks of four and can be carried internally in the Lockheed-Martin F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter. All the other weapons listed in this arms package also can be carried in the F-35As internal weapons bay, enabling it to retain its low-observable characteristics against radars.

South Korea will use the munitions to equip the F-35As of the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF), primarily in potentially defending against North Korea which is technically still at war with its southern neighbour.

Several of the weapons in this arms package can be seen as directly targeting specific North Korean capabilities. The North has an extensive network of hardened military targets, including those related to its ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs that could be targeted by the GBU-31(v)3, due to its ability to penetrate 4–6 feet (1.2–1.8 m) of reinforced concrete.

Meanwhile the quad-packed SDB-II’s capability against moving targets could potentially be used by South Korea to target the mobile ballistic missile and artillery rocket arsenal of its northern neighbour. These pose the biggest threats, as North Korea has hundreds of both types of these weapons, that can reach deep inside South Korea.

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