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South Korea says F-35A fleet operational

South Korean F-35As participate in an ‘elephant walk' on 25 March 2022, a day after North Korea tested a new nuclear-capable ICBM. (South Korean Ministry of National Defense)

South Korea said that 40 Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning IIs ordered by the country are in service.

The South Korean Ministry of National Defense (MND) acknowledged the induction on 28 March during an announcement that F-35A fighter aircraft in the Republic of Korea Air Force (RoKAF) had conducted a training-oriented ‘elephant walk' on 25 March. The elephant walk was made a day after North Korea's test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

The ministry, in its press statement, specified that the elephant walk was conducted by the F-35s “following the induction of the final unit”. The ministry added in a statement on 30 March that the F-35A fighter force is “fully operational”.

South Korea declined to provide details about the 40 aircraft. In response to a query by Janes about the induction of the aircraft, a ministry spokesperson said the ministry could not “confirm [information] about the military power and induction of F-35s as [it is] strategic arms in [the] RoK Air Force”.

Speaking during the elephant walk, Minister of National Defense Suh Wook said that South Korea would use the ‘invisible force' of F-35As, with their all-weather stealth combat and precision-strike capabilities, as a force of deterrence.

“Using the F-35A stealth fighters, we should maintain a full-readiness posture to achieve an overwhelming strategic victory and maintain a full military posture that will deter further actions by North Korea,” he added.

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