|The F-35A Lightning II JSF in Korea. Photo c/o Getty Images.
The Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) has declared Initial Operating Capability (IOC) to its fleet of Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter during ceremonies held on 17 December 2019 in Cheonju Air Base.
The ROKAF has received 13 aircraft out of the 40 ordered under a KRW7.3 trillion (US$6.3 billion) deal signed in 2014. All 13 delivered aircraft are currently operational with the 17th Fighter Wing, with the rest expected to be operated by the same unit.
The event was intentionally made lowkey and closed to the media to reduce tensions with North Korea , although local media outlet Yonhap News Agency was able to confirm the event.
Reaching IOC level means that the aircraft are now operational but is limited to certain air operations including flying interdiction, basic close air support, and limited suppression of enemy air defences (SEAD) missions as the ROKAF continues to absorb the aircraft’s full capabilities into its own doctrine, logistics and operational systems.
The ROKAF is set to receive 13 more F-35A in 2020, and another 14 units by 2021. The South Korean government also intends to order another 20 more units probably by 2021, with deliveries potentially scheduled beyond 2025.
 Yonhap News Agency
 Jane’s Defence Weekly
 The Diplomat