South Korea To Buy C-390 And Additional F-35A Aircraft

Artwork showing a C-390 in the colors of ROKAF (Image credit: Embraer)

The South Korean Defense Acquisition Program Administration announced during its Defence Project Committee meeting that it will be buying additional F-35As and C-390s.

On Dec. 4, 2023, the South Korean Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) held its 157th Defence Project Committee meeting. During this, additional budgets were assigned to four major projects including the 4th production run of the K21 IFV, 2nd batch production of the Light Attach Helicopter (LAH), aircraft finalisation for the 2nd F-X program and the 2nd Large Transport Aircraft program.

From the latter two deals, the Lockheed Martin F-35A was decided for the 2nd F-X program and the Embraer C-390 for the 2nd Large Transport Aircraft program.

20 additional F-35As to join the ROKAF by 2028.

DAPA has assigned 4.26 trillion won ($3.26 billion) for its 2nd F-X program. With the assigned budget, a total of 20 airframes are expected to be bought from Lockheed Martin. This finalisation followed the previous U.S. State Department approval of up to 25 airframes back in September of this year. Through the last F-X program back in 2014, the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) initially acquired a fleet of 40 F-35As under the name Freedom Knight. The ROKAF officially retired one airframe last week after a gear-up landing caused by a bird strike in January.

The 2nd F-X program is set to run from 2023 to 2028, bringing the ROKAF’s 5th generation fleet up to 59 aircraft. While previously there were plans to equip F-35Bs onto the Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN) aircraft carrier, the size of the planned aircraft carrier has jumped up to 50,000 tons and the focus has shifted to equipping the carrier with a catapult launched aircraft like the F-35C or KF-21N.

However, there is still much to be decided for the ROKN’s expansion as of now.

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

Embraer C-390 selected for the 2nd Large Transport Aircraft program

On a rather unexpected turn of events, the Embraer C-390 was selected as the ROKAF’s next generation of tactical transport aircraft.

During a three-way bid between Lockheed Martin’s C-130J, Airbus Defence and Space’s A400M and Embraer’s C-390, the Brazilian firm became the winning contender for the acquisition program.  With the ROKAF being a loyal customer of the Hercules, operating C-130H, C-130H-30, C-130J-30, and MC-130Ks, the selection of the C-390 Millennium was rather unexpected.

According to a DAPA official, the selection was made due to Embraer’s proposal of having the most favourable trade options. The Brazilian firm promised a consortium of local subcontractors for the operation of the C-390. While it is yet unknown how many airframes South Korea will be acquiring, a budget of 710 billion won ($544 million) has been assigned to the program. Based on Embraer’s previous deals and the project cost, a total of two to three airframes can be expected.

With the ROKAF having previously been criticised with its lacking airlift capability, the addition of the C-390 is expected to improve the fleet greatly. It should also be noted that the Korean firm KAI, has proposed the turbofan powered MC-X airframe for approximately ten years down the line. With the C-130H fleet expected to retire in 2035, a future bid war between additional C-390s and the indigenous MC-X can be speculated.

About Wonwoo Choi
Wonwoo is a student journalist and contributor to The Aviationist based in London, United Kingdom. Currently studying MEng in Aeronautical Engineering with a keen interest in OSINT, plane spotting and aircraft design. He is a former Sergeant of the Republic of Korea Army, having served as an artillery Fire Direction Centre Vehicle Radio Operator.