US approves South Korean F-16 IFF/Link 16 upgrades

The US State Department has approved the possible Foreign Military Sale (FMS) of identification friend or foe (IFF) systems and Link 16 tactical data links to South Korea, as part of the country’s F-16 upgrade effort.

Approval of the potential sale, worth US$194m, was announced on March 30 in a media release from the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), after it had notified the US Congress.

The DSCA states that the deal includes Mode 5 IFF systems and Link 16 tactical data links. Along with this, South Korea’s F-16s will be fitted with AN/ARC-238 radios, AN/APX-126 Combined Interrogator Transponders, KY-58M secure voice modules, simple key loader (SKL) crypto fill devices and will receive a Joint Mission Planning (JMPS) upgrade.

ROKAF F-16D-32 [USAF/SA Matthew Seefeldt] #1
A ROKAF F-16D Fighting Falcon in flight. USAF/SA Matthew Seefeldt

In the media release, the DSCA stated: “This proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security of the [US] by meeting legitimate security and [defence] needs of one of the US’s closest allies in the INDOPACOM [theatre].”

It also said that South Korea is a key partner of the US in ensuring peace and stability in East Asia and the Western Pacific region and added that “the proposed sale will improve the Republic of Korea’s capability to meet current and future threats by increasing its interoperability with [the USAF] and other coalition forces through an improved data link and Mode 5 IFF, producing a more effective alliance for its F-16 fleet. The Republic of Korea will have no difficulty absorbing this upgrade into its armed forces.”

According to AirForces Intelligence, as of April 2020, the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) operates a total of 164 Fighting Falcons, comprising 27 F-16C-32s, eight F-16D-32s, 70 KF-16C-52s, 41 KF-16D-52s and 18 RF-16C-52s. The air arm employs the fighters across nine squadrons.

If the sale goes through, Lockheed Martin will perform the work as the prime contractor for the upgrade at its facility in Bethesda, Maryland.