Republic of Korea Air Force

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Republic of Korea Air Force
대한민국 공군
Daehanminguk Gong-gun
Republic of Korea Air Force emblem.png
Founded1 October 1949; 71 years ago (1949-10-01)
Country South Korea
TypeAir force
RoleAerial warfare
Size65,000 (2020) [1]
740 aircraft
Part ofRepublic of Korea Armed Forces
Motto(s)"The Highest Power Defending Korea"
(Korean: 《대한민국을 지키는 가장 높은 힘》)[2]
MarchKorean: 공군가
"Air Force Song" [3][4]
Mascot(s)Haneuli and Purumae
Engagements Edit this at Wikidata
Commander-in-ChiefPresident Moon Jae-in
Minister of National DefenceSuh Wook
Air Force Chief of StaffGeneral Park In-ho
FlagFlag of the Republic of Korea Air Force.svg
LogoLogo of the Republic of Korea Air Force.png
RoundelRoundel of South Korea.svg
Low Visibility RoundelRoundel of South Korea – Low Visibility.svg

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


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 Defense. 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 in January 1949, and the ROKAF was officially founded in 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.


An 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.[5]


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. 40 General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon fighters were also purchased in 1989.


Republic of Korea Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon Fighter Jets

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.[6]


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. In 2014, Northrop Grumman awarded a contract to provide South Korea with four RQ-4 Global.[7] The South Korean Airforce acquired 40 F-35s and +20 additional F-35

In 2020 the US State Department approved the sale of upgrades to South Korea's F-16s.[8]

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, Grumman S-2 Tracker, Lockheed T-33, North American T-28, North American T-6, Sikorsky H-19, and the Bell UH-1 Huey.[9][10][11]


A Lockheed C-130 Hercules transport aircraft
  • Republic of Korea Air Force Headquarters
  • Air Force Operations Command
    • Air Combat Command
      • 1st Fighter Wing, based at Gwangju (F-5E/F)
      • 8th Fighter Wing, based at Wonju (FA-50)
      • 10th Fighter Wing, based at Suwon (KF-5E/F, F-4E)
      • 11th Fighter Wing, based at Daegu (F-15K)
      • 16th Fighter Wing, based at Yecheon (TA-50)
      • 17th Fighter Wing, based at Cheongju (F-35A)
      • 18th Fighter Wing, based at Gangneung (KF-5E/F)
      • 19th Fighter Wing, based at Chungju (KF-16)
      • 20th Fighter Wing, based at Seosan (KF-16)
      • 38th Fighter Group, based at Gunsan (KF-16)
    • Air Mobility & Reconnaissance Command
      • 3rd Flying Training Wing, based at Sacheon
      • 5th Air Mobility Wing, based at Gimhae
      • 15th Special Missions Wing, based at Seongnam
        Boeing 737 AEW&C aircraft of the Republic of Korea Air Force
      • 39th Reconnaissance Wing, based at Chungju[12]
    • Air Defense Missile Command
      • 1st Air Defense Missile Brigade
      • 2nd Air Defense Missile Brigade
      • 3rd Air Defense Missile Brigade
    • Air Defense & Control Command
      • 31st Air Defense & Control Group (1MCRC)
      • 32nd Air Defense & Control Group (2MCRC)
      • 33rd Air Defense & Control Group
      • 34th Air Defense & Control Group
  • Air Force Logistics Command
  • Air Force Education & Training Command
    • Basic Military Training Wing
  • Air Force Academy

Current projects[edit]

KF-X future fighter program[edit]

Korea and Indonesia KAI KF-21 Boramae prototype.

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.[13]

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.[14] The overall performance of the drones under development in Korea is believed to be similar to the MQ-9 Reaper.

M-SAM Block II[edit]

In the spring of 2017 the PIP missile (M-SAM Block II) began its final tests, during which it shot down five of five practice ballistic missile targets. Seven (batteries) are scheduled for deployment throughout South Korea by 2022.[15]


L-SAM refers to a locally made long-range surface-to-air missile current under development, while the Cheolmae II, also known as KM-SAM, is a domestically manufactured medium-range surface-to-air missile capable of engaging an incoming target at an altitude as high as 20 kilometers. The new project has been nicknamed the K-THAAD due to its planned long range of 25 to 93 miles and ability to hit targets high as 200,000 feet. Nearly $1 billion has been devoted to the L-SAM or Cheolmae-4, which is scheduled for completion in 2022 with deployment of four batteries to follow a year or two afterwards.[16]



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[17]
Northrop F-5 United States fighter F-5E 156[17]
Boeing F-15E United States multirole F-15K 59[17]
F-4 Phantom II United States multirole F-4E 69[17]
F-35 Lightning II United States multirole F-35A 16 20 on order[17][18] - 2 provide training[17]
F-16 Fighting Falcon United States multirole F-16C 167 49 D variants are used for training[17]
Boeing 737 AEW&C United States early warning and control E-7A 4[17] employs a Multi-role Electronically Scanned Array radar
Hawker 800 United Kingdom reconnaissance / SIGINT RC-800s 8[17]
Dassault Falcon France ELINT 2000 2[17]
Airbus A330 MRTT France refueling / transport KC-30A 4[17]
Boeing 747 United States VIP 1[19] Presidential transport
Boeing 737 United States VIP 1[20]
CASA CN-235 Spain / Indonesia transport / utility 18[17]
Lockheed C-130 United States tactical airlift C-130H 12[17]
Lockheed C-130J United States tactical airlift 4[17]
Bell 412 United States utility 3[17]
Boeing CH-47 United States transport / CSAR CH-47D 9[17]
Sikorsky S-70 United States utility / CSAR HH-60P 17[17]
Sikorsky S-92 United States VIP 3[21]
Kamov Ka-27 Russia CSAR Ka-32 7[17]
MD 500 Defender United States scout / light attack 25[17]
Eurocopter AS332 France utility / transport 3[17]
Trainer Aircraft
Northrop F-5 United States conversion trainer F-5F 36[17]
KAI KT-1 Republic of Korea trainer / light atack 104[17]
KAI T-50 Republic of Korea LIFT trainer TA-50/50B 22 / 60[17]
KAI KC-100 Republic of Korea trainer KT-100 23[17]
RQ-4 Global Hawk United States surveillance 2 2 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, Grumman S-2 Tracker, Lockheed T-33, North American T-28, North American T-6, Sikorsky H-19, and the Bell UH-1 Huey.[23][24][25]


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.

Name Origin Type Variant In service Notes
MIM-104 Patriot United States ABM / SAM system PAC-2 GEM/T 8 batteries[27]
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.

Rank group General/flag officers Field/senior officers Junior officers Officer cadet
 Republic of Korea Air Force
Marshal of the ROK Superior general Middle general Junior general Lesser general Superior commander Middle commander Junior commander Superior lieutenant Middle lieutenant Junior lieutenant
Rank group Senior NCOs Junior NCOs Enlisted
 Republic of Korea Air Force
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 No equivalent
Chief Master Sergeant Senior Master Sergeant Master Sergeant Technical Sergeant Staff Sergeant Senior Airman Airman First Class Airman

Warrant officers[edit]

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


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "2020 Defence White Paper" (PDF). December 2020.
  2. ^ "Slogan of Air Force". Republic of Korea Air Force.
  3. ^ "공군가" (in Korean). Archived from the original on February 17, 2019. Retrieved September 2, 2016.
  4. ^ KY Karaoke (금영노래방 공식 유튜브 채널) (12 December 2014). "[KY 금영노래방] 군가 - 공군가 (KY Karaoke No.KY4574)". Archived from the original on 17 February 2019. Retrieved 2 September 2016 – via YouTube.
  5. ^ Larsen, Stanley; Collins, Lawton (1985). Allied Participation in Vietnam. Department of the Army. p. 131. ISBN 9781410225016.Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  6. ^ "Korea Urged to Secure Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Systems". 20 October 2009. Archived from the original on 23 October 2009. Retrieved 20 October 2009.
  7. ^ Hoyle, Craig (17 December 2014). "Seoul finalises $657 million Global Hawk purchase". Archived from the original on 16 October 2015. Retrieved 5 October 2015.
  8. ^ Panda, Ankit. "US Approves Sale of F-16 Upgrades for South Korean Air Force". The Diplomat. Retrieved 31 March 2020.
  9. ^ "World Air Forces 1955 pg. 648". Archived from the original on 20 August 2017. Retrieved 5 October 2015.
  10. ^ "World Air Forces 1973 pg. 152". Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 5 October 2015.
  11. ^ "World Air Forces 1969 pg. 249". Archived from the original on 20 August 2017. Retrieved 5 October 2015.
  12. ^ [1] South Korea establishes new air force reconnaissance unit-, 03 Nov 2020
  13. ^ Seoul Plans Phased-Development, Typhoon-Size Fighter Archived 2013-10-31 at the Wayback Machine -, 29 April 2013
  14. ^ Korea to begin development of mid-altitude UAV”[permanent dead link] -, June 14, 2013,
  15. ^ 한국형 패트리엇 '천궁' 양산 추진, KAMD 구축 '잰걸음' -, 7 February 2018
  16. ^ Meet South Korea's Very Own Killer S-300 Air Defense System -, 24 February 2019
  17. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x "World Air Forces 2021". Flightglobal Insight. 2021. Retrieved 25 June 2021.
  18. ^ "RoKAF F-35As in show debut amid order talk". Retrieved 6 December 2019.
  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. ^ Panda, Ankit (20 April 2020). "Next RQ-4 Global Hawk Drones Arrive in South Korea". The Diplomat. Retrieved 25 May 2020.
  23. ^ "World Air Forces 1955 pg. 648". Archived from the original on 20 August 2017. Retrieved 5 October 2015.
  24. ^ "World Air Forces 1973 pg. 152". Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 5 October 2015.
  25. ^ "World Air Forces 1969 pg. 249". Archived from the original on 20 August 2017. Retrieved 5 October 2015.
  26. ^ "국가법령정보센터 - 법령 > 본문 - 공군방공포병사령부령". Archived from the original on 2014-12-17. Retrieved 2013-05-25.
  27. ^ Trade Registers. Retrieved on 6 October 2015

External links[edit]