In acquiring the F-35Bs, South Korea joins the US, Japan and the UK as the only countries with the versatile stealth fighters, which manufacturer Lockheed-Martin says “redefines the multi-role fighter.”
F-35Bs are fifth-generation stealth jets, capable of flying at Mach 1.6 — more than one-and-a-half times the speed of sound — and landing vertically.
The planes can carry two air-to-air missiles and two 1,000-pound guided bombs in their internal weapons bays.
The planes come with software suites which, in theory, allow them to communicate in real time in battle not only among South Korean forces, but also with other nations operating F-35s, such as the US, Japan and Australia, which has the F-35A model.
Lockheed-Martin says their short takeoff and vertical landing capability allows them to operate from roads or small airports as well as ships — meaning they can be closer to the battlefront and have a quicker turnaround time on missions than conventional fighter aircraft.
“The primary advantage a small carrier offers South Korea is its use as a mobile airfield,” said Carl Schuster, a former US Navy captain and a former director of operations at the US Pacific Command’s Joint Intelligence Center.
“If North Korea targets South Korea’s air bases ashore, being able to maneuver and attack from ever-changing locations has tactical and operational advantages.”
The carrier can also expand the reach of the South Korean military, Schuster said — possibly as far as the Indian Ocean.
“It signals the ROK Navy intends to operate farther from home than it does now,” he added.
Besides any possible combat roles, the South Korean military said the new carrier “will also work as a multi-purpose military base in the sea in a non-military threat situation such as a rescue operation for citizens when disasters or accidents occur.”