South Korea’s Last F-4E Phantoms Fire Final AGM-142 Popeye Missiles Prior To Retirement

F-4E AGM-142
One of the last ROKAF F-4Es fires an AGM-142 Popeye missile.

ROKAF (Republic Of Korea Air Force) F-4E Phantoms carried out the final live firing of AGM-142 Popeye missiles.

On Apr. 18, 2024, the ROKAF bid farewell to the iconic AGM-142 “Popeye” missile with a final live-firing event for the F-4E Phantom.

The iconic missile, introduced into the Republic of Korea Air Force in 2002, served as a strategic weapon for precision strikes until the deployment of the AGM-84H SLAM-ER in 2007. The F-4E stands as the sole fighter aircraft South Korean service capable of launching the AGM-142, a weapon capable of striking a target with less than 1m error from a distance of about 100km.

Earlier this month, the ROKAF Phantoms also successfully conducted a final live-fire training with the Mk-82 bombs: three F-4Es, each loaded with 10 MK-82 bombs (out of the 24 the aircraft can carry) demonstrated their ability to drop the 500 lb, Free Fall, General Purpose Bombs.

Major Kim Do-hyung, 40 years old, 153rd Fighter Squadron, 10th Fighter Wing, Air Force told Yu Yongwon TV: “Through live-fire training, I gained the confidence to hit any target immediately and powerfully. I feel a special emotion to be in charge of the final live firing of Popeye, which was once the most powerful strategic weapon. The ‘Popeye Missile’, which made enemies tremble, has disappeared into history, but the powerful majesty of this missile and the confidence they had while operating this missile will continue to remain in the hearts of the Phantom Men.”

Phantom’s Swan Song

The F-4Es are about to be retired from active service after a 47-year career within ROKAF: the first of 94 Phantoms were inducted into active service in 1977. The service also operated the F-4D and RF-4C which have already been retired, respectively in 2010 and 2014. Both the F-4E and the F-5 fleets will be replaced with F-35A Lightning IIFA-50 Golden Eagle and KF-21 Boramae combat aircraft.

When the first F-4D was introduced, it was one of the world’s most powerful aircraft. South Korea was the fourth country to operate the ‘Phantom’ following the United States, the United Kingdom, and Iran.

The Phantom was nicknamed the ‘Goblin of the Sky’ in South Korean service, and served as the ROKAF’s main fighter until the introduction into service of the KF-16 in 1994.

The F-4 boasted impressive capabilities for its time, including a maximum speed of Mach 2 and a payload capacity of around 7.25 tons, establishing it as a highly appreciated all-weather fighter-bomber. Additionally, the F-4E variant could accommodate a wide array of 20 types of weapons, included the AGM-142 and the AGM-65.

The retirement ceremony for the F-4 Phantom  is set to take place at the Suwon base on Friday, June 7, 2024.

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.