The Republic of Korea Air Force (RoKAF) has declared initial operating capability (IOC) for its conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters in a ceremony held on 17 December at the 17th Fighter Wing airbase in the South Korean city of Cheongju.
The Yonhap News Agency reported that same day that the ceremony, which was closed to the press in an apparent effort to keep it a low-profile event to avoid angering Pyongyang, was held to officially mark the operational deployment of the fifth-generation aircraft, adding that they are now ready for limited combat operations.
South Korea has so far received 13 of the 40 F-35As its plans to acquire by 2021 as part of a KRW7.3 trillion (USD6.3 billion) deal approved in September 2014.
The RoKAF is expected to receive 13 more platforms in 2020, with another 14 set to be handed over the following year. Seoul is also set to exercise an option to buy 20 more units from 2021.
The RoKAF's F-35 made its official public debut on 1 October when four of the fighters were displayed during an event to mark the 71th anniversary of the country's Armed Forces Day, which was held on 1 October at the Daegu Air Base in North Gyeongsang Province and was presided over by South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
The aircraft was also showcased at this year's Seoul International Aerospace & Defense Exhibition (ADEX) held in October.
Cheongju Air Base is the designated main operational airbase for the type.
Want to read more? For analysis on this article and access to Jane's unrivalled data and insight, learn more about our subscription options at janes.com/products