South Korea decides to retire its flagship fifth-generation US fighter jet


(MENAFN) In a surprising turn of events, South Korea has made the decision to retire its flagship fifth-generation United States fighter jet, the F-35A, following a dramatic encounter with a bird last year. The South Korean Air Force officially announced the retirement on Friday, citing the extensive damages sustained during a bird strike, which led to the conclusion that repairing the jet would be more costly and time-consuming than acquiring a new one.

The F-35, heralded by United States officials as the world's most advanced stealth fighter jet, has been widely sold to more than a dozen allies globally. The specific variant in question, the "A" variant, is designed for takeoff from conventional runways. The decision to retire the damaged F-35A highlights the substantial financial and logistical challenges posed by the incident, as well as the intricate nature of the fighter jet's components.

Lockheed Martin, the United States defense contractor responsible for manufacturing the F-35, collaborated with the South Korean Air Force in conducting a comprehensive review of the damaged jet. The analysis revealed that the bird strike had impacted approximately 300 components, including critical systems such as the engine, navigation system, and airframe.

The estimated cost of repairs was staggering, reaching 140 billion won (equivalent to USD108 million), and the projected timeline for completion was set at four years.

South Korea currently possesses 40 F-35As, inclusive of the irreparably damaged jet, and has an additional 25 on order. The Air Force has affirmed its commitment to finding a purpose for the retired jet, proposing potential uses such as training mechanics to maximize its utility.

The incident occurred when the F-35A was flying at an altitude of 330 meters (1,082 feet) over North Chungcheong province in central South Korea. Striking an eagle in mid-air, the bird was subsequently sucked into the plane's air intake, causing significant damage to vital systems required for navigation and operating landing gear. The pilot skillfully executed an emergency belly landing at a base in Seosan, approximately 80 kilometers (50 miles) southwest of Seoul.

This unforeseen event serves as a stark reminder of the vulnerability of even the most advanced military aircraft to unexpected challenges, raising questions about the longevity and adaptability of high-tech fighter jets in the face of nature's unpredictability.

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