The Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) has officially declared initial operational capability (IOC) with its Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II fighters, according to local media sources.
The IOC declaration for the F-35A was announced at a private ceremony in Cheongju - home of the 17th Fighter Wing - on December 17. According to a report by South Korea's Yonhap News Agency, the event "was closed to the press in an apparent effort to keep it a low-profile event to avoid angering Pyongyang, which has strongly bristled at the introduction of such state-of-the-art weapons as a sign of hostility."
South Korea placed an order for 40 F-35As - the conventional take-off and landing variant - in 2014. As of December 18, 2019, a total of 13 examples have been delivered to the nation, with all 40 planned to be delivered by 2021. By declaring IOC on the first F-35A batch, it enables the ROKAF to deploy the Lightning in a limited combat capacity.
In October, South Korea's Defence Acquisition Program Administration outlined the nation's plans to exercise an available option to acquire 20 more F-35s from 2021 in a deal worth 4 trillion won (US$3.35bn), increasing the ROKAF's fleet size from 40 to 60. South Korea is also considering acquiring the F-35B short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) variant of the Lightning family for operations from Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN) Dokdo-class amphibious assault ships.