South Korea To Buy 20 F-35B For LPX-II Program

The USMC's F-35B STOVL.

South Korea could invest approximately $2.7 billion in buying 20 vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) jets, most likely the U.S.-made F-35B, for its planned aircraft carrier.

Seoul wants to build a 30,000 ton-class light aircraft carrier by 2033. Following the government’s approval in February to push for the project, a feasibility study is underway. Around 2 trillion won ($1.8 billion) is expected to be spent over ten years in building the ship, Yonhap News Agency reported citing Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) today.

“The maintenance and operating cost are expected to come to around 50 billion won per year, which amounts to a mere 0.6% of our total budget for 2021,” a Navy official told the outlet. An additional 3 trillion won will be required to introduce around 20 VTOL jets for the aircraft carrier, but those jets will be run by the Air Force as its major assets, he added.

The only fighter that has VTOL capability – or the ability to hover, take off, and land vertically – is the Lockheed F-35B jet. Seoul has so far not requested to buy F-35B jets specifically. It has however begun procedures to acquire approximately 20 VTOL jets for light carrier operations.

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The envisioned aircraft carrier is likely to be equipped with a conventional engine or a hybrid electric propulsion system. It will be the third landing platform helicopter ship the country will deploy, after the Dokdo and Marado ships.

In its 2021-2025 blueprint release last August, South Korea revealed fresh details about its LPX-II program or light aircraft carrier program. The LPX-II will not have amphibious support capability — no well deck — and the vessel will be dedicated to air operations, with F-35B and rotary wings.

According to reports, the F-35B will be operated by the Air Force and will be acquired separately from 20 additional F-35As. This means Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) will operate a total of 80 F-35s (60 F-35As and 20 F-35Bs).

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