And it will only get stronger.
After a large army, the second most important arm of the Republic of Korea Armed Forces has historically been the country’s air force. The Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) is the most powerful air force on the Korean Peninsula, with a capability far greater than its northern rival, providing air cover and support to ground forces defending south of the thirty-eighth parallel. Recently, the air force has taken on a new task as Seoul shapes a conventional force to deter North Korea’s nuclear weapons.
South Korea had little to no air force to speak of during the Korean War, but afterward the country was trained and equipped to a high standard. In any North/South rematch the ROKAF could count on facing off against a Korean People’s Army Air Force trained by North Korea’s patrons, equipped with some of the latest communist bloc fighter jets. As part of the postwar air force building process the ROKAF was injected with 122 F-86 and RF-86 Sabre jets, the same flown by American pilots during the war.
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The rapid growth of the South Korean economy meant newer, larger fleets of fighters could afforded on a regular basis. The F-86 fleet gave way to the F-5A/B Freedom Fighter jets in 1965. Developed for the export market by Northrop and widely adopted by America’s allies from Norway to the Philippines, the F-5 was the F-16 (or MiG-21) of its time, a A total of 214 F-5s, including a home-built version, were introduced to the air force up until 1986.
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