Republic of Korea Air Force

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Republic of Korea Air Force
대한민국 공군
Logo of the South Korean Air Force.png
Republic of Korea Air Force logo
FoundedOctober 1, 1949; 69 years ago (1949-10-01)
Country South Korea
TypeAir force
RoleAerial warfare
Size65,000 (2016)[1]
700 aircraft
Part of Republic of Korea Armed Forces
Garrison/HQGyeryong, South Korea
Nickname(s)"ROK Air Force", "ROKAF", "South Korean air force"
March"Air Force Anthem" (Korean: 공군가; Hanja: 空軍歌; Gonggunga, literally "air force song")[2][3]
Mascot(s)Haneuli and Purumae
EngagementsKorean War
Vietnam War
Persian Gulf War
Global War on Terrorism
Commander-in-ChiefPresident Moon Jae-in
Minister of National DefenseJeong Kyeong-doo
Air Force Chief of StaffGeneral Lee Wang-keun
Flag of the Republic of Korea Air Force.svg
Roundel of South Korea.svg
Low-visibility roundel
Roundel of South Korea - Low Visibility.svg

The Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF; Korean: 대한민국 공군; Hanja: 大韓民國 空軍; Romanization: Daehanminguk Gong-gun), also known as the ROK Air Force, is the aerial warfare service branch of South Korea, operating under the South Korean Ministry of National Defense.


P-51 Mustangs were among the first fighter aircraft for the ROKAF


Shortly after the end of World War II, the South Korean Air Construction Association was founded on August 10, 1946, to publicize the importance of air power. Despite the then-scanty status of Korean armed forces, the first air unit was formed on May 5, 1948, under the direction of Dong Wi-bu, the forerunner to the modern South Korean Ministry of National Defence. On September 13, 1949, the United States contributed 10 L-4 Grasshopper observation aircraft to the South Korean air unit. An Army Air Academy was founded on January 1949, and the ROKAF was officially founded on October 1949.


The 1950s were a critical time for the ROKAF as it expanded tremendously during the Korean War. At the outbreak of the war, the ROKAF consisted of 1,800 personnel but was equipped with only 20 trainers and liaison aircraft, including 10 North American T-6 Texan advanced trainers purchased from Canada. The North Korean air force had acquired a considerable number of Yak-9 and La-7 fighters from the Soviet Union, dwarfing the ROKAF in terms of size and strength. However, during the course of the war, the ROKAF acquired 110 aircraft: 79 fighter-bombers, three fighter squadrons, and one fighter wing. The first combat aircraft received were North American F-51D Mustangs, along with a contingent of US Air Force instructor pilots under the command of Major Dean Hess, as part of Bout One Project. The ROKAF participated in bombing operations and flew independent sorties. After the war, the ROKAF Headquarters was moved to Daebangdong, Seoul. Air Force University was also founded in 1956.


A F-4D armed with AIM-9 missiles at Daegu Air Base in January 1979.

To counter the threat of possible North Korean aggression, the ROKAF underwent a substantial capability enhancement. The ROKAF acquired North American T-28 Trojan trainers, North American F-86D Sabre night- and all-weather interceptors, Northrop F-5 fighters and McDonnell Douglas F-4D Phantom fighter bombers. Air Force Operations Command was established in 1961 to secure efficient command and control facilities. Air Force Logistics Command was established in 1966, and emergency runways were constructed for emergency use during wartime. The Eunma Unit was founded in 1966 to operate Curtiss C-46 Commando transport aircraft used to support Republic of Korea Army and Republic of Korea Marine Corps units serving in South Vietnam during the Vietnam War.[4]


The ROKAF was posed with a security risk, with an increasingly belligerent North Korea throughout the 1970s. The South Korean government increased its expenditure on the ROKAF, resulting in the purchase of Northrop F-5E Tiger II fighters in August 1974 and F-4E fighter-bombers. Support aircraft, such as Fairchild C-123 Providers and Grumman S-2 Trackers were also purchased at the time. Great emphasis was placed in the flight training program; new trainer aircraft (Cessna T-41 Mescalero and Cessna T-37) were purchased, and the Air Force Education & Training Command was also founded in 1973 to consolidate and enhance the quality of personnel training.


The ROKAF concentrated on qualitative expansion of aircraft to catch up to the strength of the North Korean Air Force. In 1982, Korean variants of the F-5E, the Jegong-ho were first produced. The ROKAF gathered a good deal of information on the North Korean Air Force when Captain Lee Woong-pyeong, a North Korean pilot, defected to South Korea. The Korean Combat Operations Information center was soon formed and the Air Defence System was automated to attain air superiority against North Korea. When the 1988 Seoul Olympics was held in South Korea, the ROKAF contributed to the success of this event by helping to oversee the entire security system. The ROKAF also moved its headquarters and the Air Force Education & Training Command to other locations. Forty General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon fighters were purchased in 1989.


U.S. and South Korean F-16s demonstrate an 'Elephant Walk' as at Kunsan Air Base

South Korea committed its support for coalition forces during the Persian Gulf War, forming the "Bima Unit" to fight in the war. The ROKAF also provided airlift support for peacekeeping operations in Somalia in 1993. The increased participation in international operations depicted the ROKAF's elevated international position. Over 180 KF-16 fighters of F-16 Block 52 specifications were introduced as part of the Peace Bridge II & III program from 1994. In 1997, for the first time in Korean aviation history, female cadets were accepted into the Korean Air Force Academy.


The last of the old South Korean 60 F-5A/B fighters were all retired in August 2007, and they were replaced with the F-15K and F/A-50. On October 20, 2009, Bruce S. Lemkin, deputy undersecretary of the U.S. Air Force said that the ROKAF's limited intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities increased the risk of instability on the Korean Peninsula and suggested the purchase of American systems such as the F-35 Lightning II to close this gap.[5]


The South Korean Air Force also expressed interests in acquiring the RQ-4 Global Hawk remotely piloted vehicle (RPV) and a number of Joint Direct Attack Munition conversion kits to further improve its intelligence and offensive capabilities.[citation needed] The South Korean Airforce acquired 40 F-35s.

Order of battle[edit]

A South Korean air force F-15K
FA-50 Fighting Eagle
A Lockheed C-130 Hercules transport aircraft
Boeing 737 AEW&C aircraft of the South Korean air force
  • Republic of Korea Air Force Headquarters
    • Air Force Operations Command
      • 5th Tactical Airlift Wing, based at Gimhae
        • 251st Tactical Air Support Squadron flying C-130H and C-130H-30
        • 256th Tactical Air Support Squadron flying CN235-100M
        • 258th Tactical Support Squadron flying CN235-100M and CN235-220M
        • 259th Tactical Air Support Squadron flying UH-60P
        • 271st AEW&C Flight Squadron flying E-737
      • 15th Special Missions Wing, based at Seongnam
        • 255th Special Operations Squadron flying C-130H
        • 257th Tactical Air Transport Squadron flying C-130H
      • 35th Combined Group
        • 296th Special Transport Squadron flying the HS-748, CN235-220M, Boeing 737-300, Sikorsky VH-60P and a Sikorsky S-92
      • 6th Combat Control Team/Combat Search And Rescue Group
    • Air Force Northern Combat Command
      • 8th Fighter Wing, based at Wonju
        • 103rd Fighter Squadron flying F/A-50
        • 203rd Fighter Squadron flying F/A-50
        • 237th Tactical Control Squadron flying KA-1
        • 288th Electronic Fighter Squadron flying Harpy
      • 10th Fighter Wing, based at Suwon Air Base
        • 101st Fighter Squadron flying KF-5E/KF-5F/F-5F
        • 201st Fighter Squadron flying KF-5E/KF-5F/F-5F
      • 17th Fighter Wing, based at Cheongju
        • 152nd Fighter Squadron flying F-4E
        • 153rd Fighter Squadron flying F-4E
        • 156th Fighter Squadron flying F-4E
      • 29th Tactical Development & Training Group
        • 191st Tactical Development & Training Squadron flying F-16C/D and KF-16C/D
        • 192nd Tactical Development & Training Squadron flying F-5E/F and KF-5E/F
      • 6th Search & Rescue Group
      • 18th Fighter Wing, based at Gangneung
        • 105th Fighter Squadron flying F-5E/F-5F/KF-5F
        • 112th Fighter Squadron flying F-5E/F-5F/KF-5F
      • 19th Fighter Wing, based at Jungwon Air Base
        • 161st Fighter Squadron flying F-16C/D (Block32)
        • 162nd Fighter Squadron flying F-16C/D (Block32)
        • 155th Fighter Squadron flying KF-16C/D (Block52)
        • 159th Fighter Squadron flying KF-16C/D (Block52)
      • 20th Fighter Wing, based at Seosan Air Base
        • 120th Fighter Squadron flying KF-16C/D (Block52)
        • 121st Fighter Squadron flying KF-16C/D (Block52)
        • 123rd Fighter Squadron flying KF-16C/D (Block52)
        • 157th Fighter Squadron flying KF-16C/D (Block52)
    • Air Force Southern Combat Command
      • 1st Fighter Wing, based at Gwangju
        • 189th Flying Training Squadron flying T-50
        • 206th Fighter Squadron flying F-5E/F
        • 216th Flying Training Squadron flying T-50
      • 11th Fighter Wing, based at Daegu
        • 102nd Fighter Squadron flying F-15K
        • 122nd Fighter Squadron flying F-15K
        • 110th Fighter Squadron flying F-15K
      • 16th Fighter Wing, based at Yecheon
        • 115th Flying Training Squadron flying TA-50
        • 202nd Fighter Squadron flying FA-50
      • 38th Fighter Group, based at Gunsan
        • 111th Fighter Squadron flying KF-16
    • Air Defence Artillery Command
      • 1st Air Defence Artillery Brigade
      • 2nd Air Defence Artillery Brigade
      • 3rd Air Defence Artillery Brigade
    • Air Defense & Control Command, based at Osan
      • 31st Air Defense and Control Group, based at Osan
      • 32nd Air Defense and Control Group, based at Daegu
      • 33rd Air Control Group
      • 34th Air Control Group
    • Air Force Logistics Command
      • Maintenance Depots
      • Supply Depots
      • Transportation Groups
    • Air Force Education & Training Command
      • Basic Military Training Wing
      • 3rd Flying Training Wing
      • Air Force Aviation Science High School
      • Technical Schools
    • Aerospace Projects Group
    • Aerial Combat Development Group
    • Air Force Academy

Current projects[edit]

Three F-15K flying in formation during the Red Flag Alaska exercises, August 2013.

F-X fighter program[edit]

F-X Phase 1

The first phase of the air forces fighter procurement programs was the addition to the ROKAF of the F-15K Slam Eagle to fulfill the requirements of the "F-X" next generation fighter program in 2002.

F-X Phase 2

For the second phase of the F-X program, ROKAF has purchased 21 additional F-15K to compensate for the retirement of their F-5A/B in August 2007.

F-X Phase 3

The third phase of the F-X project is a bid for an advanced multi-role strike fighter aircraft by 2014, intended to replace the aging F-4 Phantom II and F-5. The F-35A Lightning II was selected in November 2013 following the cancellation of the previous competitive tender, with 40 Block 3F aircraft to be acquired beginning in 2018. 20 additional unspecified fighters will also be purchased.[6] The contract became formal on September 2014.[7]

E-X Early warning aircraft program[edit]

The E-X Airborne Early Warning (AEW) aircraft program (also known as 'Peace Eye') was undertaken by the Republic of Korea Air Force to purchase AEW capability to strengthen ROKAF's ability to detect and distinguish between friendly and hostile aircraft. The two candidates for this program were the Boeing 737 AEW&C and a consortium of Israel Aerospace Industries, Elta, L-3 Communications and Gulfstream Aerospace offering a Gulfstream G500/G550 aircraft equipped with Phalcon radar.

Originally, the ROKAF preferred the Gulfstream as it was cheaper than the Boeing counterpart. The Gulfstream was, in turn, less capable than the Boeing. However, the fact that almost no other nations, barring Japan, has advanced AWACS gave the Koreans the impression that the Gulfstream would be adequate to handle the given task of the E-X project.

The United States issued a warning to the IAI/Elta consortium that several of the AWACS technologies employed aboard the Gulfstream was developed by the United States, such as the IFF system, TADIL A/B (Link 11) and J (Link 16), satellite communications and AN/ARC-164 Have Quick II radios, and thus that Israel was obliged not to resell any of these technologies to another country without the permission of the United States.[citation needed]

In August 2006 DAPA announced that the Gulfstream was disqualified from the competition because of the failure to obtain US export licences for the datalinks and satellite communications, leaving the Boeing as the only proposal.[8] In November 2006, the Boeing 737 AEW&C was announced to be the winner of the E-X AEW aircraft competition. In 2011, the first two of four Peace Eye aircraft were delivered. The final two aircraft were delivered in 2012.

KF-X future fighter program[edit]

The KF-X program is an early-stage project to develop an indigenous fighter aircraft. The current proposal is to develop an F-16 Block 50 class aircraft with basic stealth capabilities to replace the F-4D/E Phantom II and F-5E/F Tiger II aircraft. South Korea is reportedly seeking technological assistance from Saab, Boeing and Lockheed Martin for the production of the KF-X. On 15 July 2010, the Indonesia government agreed to fund 20% of the KF-X project cost in return of around 50 planes built for the Indonesian Air Force after project completion. In September 2010, Indonesia sent a team of legal and aviation experts to South Korea to discuss copyright issues of the aircraft. In December 2010 the program shifted from an F-16 class fighter to a stealth aircraft in order to respond to North Korean pressure.

The KF-X is envisioned as a medium fighter to at first supplement, then replace the ROK Air Force's KF-16 fleet. It will have capabilities in between the light FA-50 fighter and the high-grade, long range, heavy payload F-15K and F-35 Lightning II.[9]

Mid-altitude unmanned aerial vehicles (MUAV)[edit]

South Korea will resume a once-aborted program to develop Medium-altitude long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle to bolster its monitoring capabilities of North Korea's missile and nuclear programs. The state-funded Agency for Defense Development launched the indigenous drone development project in 2006 and made a prototype in May 2010. The medium-altitude, long-endurance UAV is designed to fly at an altitude of up to 10 kilometers and its radar can scan as far as 100 km. Korea hopes to complete development of the combat drones by 2018.[10] The overall performance of the drones under development in Korea is believed to be similar to the MQ-9 Reaper.

HALE (High Altitude, Long Endurance) UAV[edit]

Seoul had shown interest in the high-altitude, long-endurance Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk drone to conduct intelligence missions on North Korea, as it is preparing to take over wartime operational control from Washington at the end of 2015. But the price was nearly a three-fold jump from the initial price estimated by the defense ministry, and much higher than $875 million offered by the U.S. government in July 2011.[11] The U.S. Congress approved the sale to South Korea for 4 Global Hawk UAVs, but Seoul could have reconsidered the deal because of the high costs.[12] Northrop Grumman was awarded the contract to provide South Korea with four Block 30 Global Hawks in December 2014, with all to be delivered by June 2019.[13]

Aerial tanker[edit]

The Air Force is to acquire four aerial refueling tankers between 2017-2019. Potential candidates include the Airbus A330 MRTT and the Boeing KC-46. The tankers will be used to refuel combat jet fighters. Previous attempts to buy tankers had been delayed due to budget constraints.[14] On 12 August 2013, DAPA approved the plan for tanker acquisition. Bidding was to begin in February 2014, with the winner to be announced in October 2014 after evaluations of price and performance. Air-to-air refueling will increase the endurance of the KF-16 by 70 minutes, and the F-15K by 90 minutes. DAPA declined to reveal the budget for the plan and estimated to be over $1.3 billion.[15] A plan to buy four aircraft was to be approved in November 2013, with evaluations to proceed from March to May 2014. The contract is valued at $940 million.[16] Along with the Airbus A330 MRTT and Boeing KC-46, Israel Aerospace Industries is offering a version of the Boeing 767-300ER-derived multimission tanker transport.[17]


Current inventory[edit]

F-15K on landing
A FA-50 on first delivery
The air force operates the Kamov Ka-32A4s helicopter for CSAR
A F-16 Fighting Falcon on take off
Aircraft Origin Type Variant In service Notes
Combat Aircraft
KAI T-50 Republic of Korea light multirole FA-50 60[18]
Northrop F-5 United States fighter F-5E 158[18]
Boeing F-15E United States multirole F-15K 59[18]
F-4 Phantom II United States multirole F-4E 71[18]
F-35 Lightning II United States multirole F-35A 1 40 on order[18]
F-16 Fighting Falcon United States multirole F-16C 118[18] 51 D variants are used for training
Boeing 737 AEW&C United States early warning and control E-7A 4[18] employs a Multi-role Electronically Scanned Array radar
Hawker 800 United Kingdom reconnaissance / SIGINT RC-800 8[18]
Dassault Falcon France ELINT 2000 2[18]
Airbus A330 MRTT France refueling / transport KC-30A 4 on order[18]
Boeing 747 United States VIP 747-400 1[19] Presidential transport lease from Korean Air
Boeing 737 United States VIP 737-300 1[20]
CASA CN-235 Spain / Indonesia transport / uitlity 18[18]
Lockheed C-130 United States tactical airlift C-130H 12[18]
Lockheed C-130J United States tactical airlift 4[18]
Bell 412 United States utility 3[18]
Boeing CH-47 United States transport / CSAR CH-47D 5[18]
Sikorsky S-70 United States utility / CSAR HH-60P 29[18]
Sikorsky S-92 United States VIP 3[21]
Kamov Ka-27 Russia CSAR Ka-32 7[18]
MD 500 Defender United States scout / light attack 25[18]
Eurocopter AS332 France utility / transport 3[18]
Trainer Aircraft
Northrop F-5 United States conversion trainer F-5F 36[18]
KAI KT-1 Republic of Korea trainer / light attack 106[18]
KAI T-50 Republic of Korea LIFT trainer TA-50/50B 22/50[18]
KAI KC-100 Republic of Korea trainer KT-100 2 21 on order[18]
RQ-4 Global Hawk United States surveillance 4 on order[22]

Retired aircraft[edit]

Previous aircraft operated by the Air Force consisted of the P-51 Mustang, North American F-86 Sabre, F-4 Phantom II, Curtiss C-46, Douglas C-47, Lockheed T-33, North American T-28, North American T-6, Sikorsky H-19, and the Bell UH-1 Huey.[23][24][25]

Air-defense weapons[edit]

The ROKAF Air Defence Artillery Command transferred from the Republic of Korea Army's air defense artillery and was established as a basic branch on 1 July 1991.[26] Following the establishment of the ROKAF Air Defence Artillery Command as a separate service in 1991, the army began to develop further its own air defense artillery assets (short range SAM, SPAAG and man-portable air-defense systems) in support of ground operations.

Doosan Chunma self-propelled surface-to-air missile system
Name Origin Type Variant In service Notes
MIM-104 Patriot United States ABM / SAM system PAC-2 GEM/T 8 batteries to be upgraded to PAC-3 standard[27]
MIM-23 Hawk United States SAM system I-Hawk 24[27]
Doosan K-SAM Chunma Republic of Korea short range SAM system 100 tracked vehicle
KM-SAM Republic of Korea medium range ABM / SAM system 10 batteries
Anti-aircraft artillery
K200 KIFV Republic of Korea mobile anti-aircraft gun K263A1 200 self-propelled 20mm anti-aircraft gun
K30 Biho Republic of Korea mobile anti-aircraft gun 176 contains twin 30mm self-propelled guns
KP-SAM Republic of Korea portable air defense 2,000

Military ranks[edit]

Officer ranks can be learned fairly easily if one sees the pattern. "So" equals small; "Jung" equals medium; "Dae" equals large. "Jun" equals the prefix sub-.. Each of these is coupled with "wi" equals company grade, "ryeong" equals field grade, and "jang" equals general. This system is due to the hanja or Sino-Korean origin of the names.

OF-10 OF-9 OF-8 OF-7 OF-6 OF-5 OF-4 OF-3 OF-2 OF-1 OF(D) and student officer
South Korea South Korea
Marshal of the ROK Superior general Middle general Junior general Lesser general Superior commander Middle commander Junior commander Superior lieutenant Middle lieutenant Junior lieutenant Unknown
Marshal of the ROKAF
(Korean: 원수)
(Korean: 대장)
Lieutenant general
(Korean: 중장)
Major general
(Korean: 소장)
Brigadier general
(Korean: 준장)
(Korean: 대령)
Lieutenant colonel
(Korean: 중령)
(Korean: 소령)
(Korean: 대위)
(Korean: 중위)
Junior lieutenant
(Korean: 소위)
OR-9 OR-8 OR-7 OR-6 OR-5 OR-4 OR-3 OR-2 OR-1
South Korea South Korea
8.SKAF-SGM.svg 7.SKAF-MSG.svg 6.SKAF-SFC.svg 5.SKAF-SSG.svg 4.SKAF-SGT.svg 3.SKAF-CPL.svg 2.SKAF-PFC.svg 1.SKAF-PV2.svg 0.SKAF-PV1.svg
(Korean: 원사)
(Korean: 상사)
(Korean: 중사)
(Korean: 하사)
(Korean: 병장)
(Korean: 상병)
(Korean: 일병)
(Korean: 이병)
(Korean: 장정)
Chief Master Sergeant Senior Master Sergeant Master Sergeant Technical Sergeant Staff Sergeant Senior Airman Airman First Class Airman Airman Basic

Warrant officers[edit]

ROK Air Force's rank ROK Air Force's insignia
Jun-wi (warrant officer)


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "2016 Defence White Paper" (PDF). December 2016.
  2. ^ "공군가" (in Korean). Retrieved September 2, 2016.
  3. ^ KY Karaoke (금영노래방 공식 유튜브 채널) (12 December 2014). "[KY 금영노래방] 군가 - 공군가 (KY Karaoke No.KY4574)" – via YouTube.
  4. ^ "Vietnam Studies: Allied Participation in Vietnam, Chapter VI: The Republic of Korea." page 131. Archived 2010-06-08 at the Wayback Machine.
  5. ^ "Korea Urged to Secure Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Systems". 20 October 2009.
  6. ^ South Korea to obtain 40 F-35As -, 22 November 2013
  7. ^ "South Korea's biggest-ever weapons buy: $7B for 40 F-35A jets".
  8. ^ Brendan Sobie (3 August 2006). "South Korea selects Boeing 737-based AEW&C system over Gulfstream G550 platform". Retrieved 28 January 2011.
  9. ^ Seoul Plans Phased-Development, Typhoon-Size Fighter -, 29 April 2013
  10. ^ Korea to begin development of mid-altitude UAV”[permanent dead link] -, June 14, 2013,
  11. ^ "U.S. Congress approves the sale of four spy drones to S. Korea". 3 May 2013. Retrieved 14 June 2013.
  12. ^ "Korea rejected the U.S. Global Hawk UAV ?". Archived from the original on 15 June 2013. Retrieved 14 June 2013.
  13. ^ Seoul finalises $657 million Global Hawk purchase -, 17 December 2014
  14. ^ Air Force to acquire 4 aerial refueling tankers by 2019 -, 6 August 2013
  15. ^ S. Korea To Extend Range of Jets With Aerial Tankers -, 12 August 2013
  16. ^ South Korea To Open Bid for Aerial Tankers -, 18 October 2013
  17. ^ IAI offers 767 conversions for South Korean tanker contest -, 30 June 2014
  18. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w "World Air Forces 2018". Flightglobal Insight. 2018. Retrieved 18 May 2018.
  19. ^ "ROK Air Force". Retrieved 18 September 2015.
  20. ^ "WAF 2004 pg. 86". Flightglobal Insight. 2004. Retrieved 4 October 2015.
  21. ^ "Sikorsky Delivers Three S-92 Helicopters to Korean Air Force". Retrieved 4 October 2015.
  22. ^ "Seoul finalises $657 million Global Hawk purchase". Retrieved 5 October 2015.
  23. ^ "World Air Forces 1955 pg. 648". Retrieved 5 October 2015.
  24. ^ "World Air Forces 1973 pg. 152". Retrieved 5 October 2015.
  25. ^ "World Air Forces 1969 pg. 249". Retrieved 5 October 2015.
  26. ^ "국가법령정보센터 - 법령 > 본문 - 공군방공포병사령부령".
  27. ^ a b Trade Registers. Retrieved on 6 October 2015

External links[edit]