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South Korea air force test flies new F-35A stealth fighters

By
Elizabeth Shim
South Korea has begun test flights of the F-35A stealth fighter aircraft. File Photo by Staff Sgt. Kate Thornton/U.S. Air Force
South Korea has begun test flights of the F-35A stealth fighter aircraft. File Photo by Staff Sgt. Kate Thornton/U.S. Air Force

May 3 (UPI) -- The South Korean air force has begun test flights of new F-35A stealth fighter jets, according to multiple press reports.

The Lockheed Martin-manufactured aircraft began training exercises from an air base in Cheongju, North Chungcheong Province, in mid-April, Yonhap reported Friday.

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The aircraft made their journey from Luke Air Base in Arizona on March 22, covering a distance of more than 8,500 miles. The F-35A can reach a maximum combat speed of Mach 1.8 and can carry Joint Direct Attack Munition, a guided air-to-surface weapon that converts unguided bombs into precision-guided munitions.

The F-35A's stealth function allows the aircraft to fly undetected by radar, allowing it to better track and destroy enemy missiles.

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Local news service EDaily reported Friday the training means the stealth fighters will soon be deployed with South Korea's military.

A South Korean air force representative told EDaily and other press services the strategic deployment is "on schedule."

"We have to carefully check to see if there any malfunctions ahead of strategic deployment," the representative added without providing details, the report said.

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South Korea plans to deploy more than 10 F-35A fighter jets by the end of 2019 and 40 aircraft by 2021.

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In his most recent summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, President Donald Trump had expressed appreciation for South Korea purchases of U.S. weapons.

South Korea "agreed to purchase a tremendous amount of our military equipment from jet fighters to missiles, to lots of other things," Trump said.

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The Donga Ilbo reported other possible purchases could include the MH-60R Seahawk multi-mission helicopter.

Nuclear talks with North Korea have stalled since February, when Kim Jong Un and Trump failed to reach a deal on denuclearization.

North Korea also declined to attend a ceremony marking the one-year anniversary of the first Moon-Kim summit over the weekend.

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