Lawmaker Says South Korea’s F-35As Grounded By Malfunctions 172 Times Over 18 Months

File photo of a ROKAF F-35A (Image credit: LM)

South Korean lawmaker concerned about the issues affecting ROKAF F-35s.

The reliability of the ROKAF (Republic Of Korea Air Force) F-35A fighters is causing concern in South Korea according to an article published by the Yonhap News Agency. According to the report, citing Air Force data, Rep. Shin Won-sik of the ruling People Power Party lawa said that the South Korean F-35s have been “operationally unready” 234 times over 18-month period ending in June 2022.

The low availability rate, caused by malfunctions, grounded the ROKAF F-35s on 172 instances, while in 62 cases the jets could fly but they were somehow limited, and unable to carry out certain missions. “Grounded fifth-generation fighters could carry out missions for only 12 days on average last year and 11 days in the first half of this year” the report says.

Backed by this data, the lawmaker stressed the South Korean military “should make strenuous efforts not only to introduce such high-end weapons systems but also to maintain them”.

Despite suffering frequent issues (especially compared with older generation jets like the F-4E and the F-5 that were respectively grounded only 26 and 28 times over the same period), ROKAF said that the fleet met the target operation rate of 75 percent. Not bad, compared to the availability rate of the U.S. F-35 fleet that you can find here.

While we still miss some clarification about the data disclosed by the South Korean MP (we don’t know, for instance, how availability rate is calculated by ROKAF), it seems clear that, despite some aircraft have been grounded for long times, the service, that admitted difficulties obtaining parts for defects, has been able to launch the number of sorties of mission capable aircraft required to maintaining the readiness posture needed to deter North Korean threats.

On Mar. 25, 2022, on the day following North Korea’s launch of the new Hwasongpho-17 “monster” intercontinental ballistic missile, the South responded by putting its F-35A in parade: an Elephant Walk that included 28 (out of 40) F-35A the ROKAF has received was widely advertised across the social networks with the slogan “Invisible power to protect South Korea” to show that the South Korea’s military “will use the F-35A with all-weather stealth and precision strike capabilities to achieve overwhelming strategic victories and maintain a full military posture that will deter further North Korea’s actions”.

The ROKAF F-35 fleet is based at Cheongju AB, southeast of Seoul, in the center part of South Korea, home of ROKAF’s 17th Fighter Wing and its two child units, the 151 Fighter Squadron and 152 Fighter Squadron, that operate the 5th generation jet. The Republic of Korea selected the F-35 at the end of its F-X III fighter acquisition program with the signing of a Letter of Offer and Acceptance (LOA) between the U.S. and Korean governments on Sept. 30, 2014. In total, South Korea ordered 40 F-35A, the last of those was delivered in January this year.

In December 2017, South Korea’s Defence Acquisition Program Administration established a process for procuring the 20 additional aircraft, the Joongang Ilbo newspaper reported, citing multiple government sources. The first F-35A for the ROKAF, known as aircraft AW-1, took flight in Fort Worth, Texas, in March 2018. In the same year, the first F-35A was delivered to Luke AFB, Arizona, for pilot training while in 2019, the first F-35As were delivered to their permanent base in South Korea.

Following a belly landing incident, caused by an avionic system issue, the fleet was temporarily grounded in January 2022.

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.