South Korea's F-4E Phantom Fighter Jets Retire After 55 Years of Service

South Korea's F-4E Phantom jets, a key air defense against North Korea for 55 years, retire in 2023, replaced by advanced fighters like F-35A and KF-21, marking a significant milestone in the country's military aviation history.

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Nitish Verma
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South Korea's F-4E Phantom Fighter Jets Retire After 55 Years of Service

South Korea's F-4E Phantom Fighter Jets Retire After 55 Years of Service

South Korea's F-4E Phantom fighter jets, which have been a vital part of the country's air defense against North Korea for 55 years, completed their final live-fire exercises last week. The Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) fleet of F-4E Phantoms is set to officially retire on June 7, 2023, marking the end of an era for these important air defense assets.

The ROKAF also bid farewell to the iconic AGM-142 'Popeye' missile with a final live-firing event for the F-4E Phantom on April 18, 2023. The F-4E was the sole ROKAF fighter capable of launching the AGM-142, a precision strike weapon. In addition to the Popeye missile, the Phantoms conducted a final live-fire training with Mk-82 bombs.

The F-4E fleet, which has been in service for 47 years, will be replaced by the F-35A Lightning II, FA-50 Golden Eagle, and KF-21 Boramae combat aircraft. The F-4 Phantom, nicknamed the 'Goblin of the Sky,' served as the ROKAF's main fighter until the introduction of the KF-16 in 1994. It was known for its impressive capabilities, including a maximum speed of Mach 2 and a wide array of weapon options.

Why this matters: The retirement of the F-4E Phantom marks a significant milestone in South Korea's military aviation history. As the country faces ongoing threats from North Korea, the transition to newer, more advanced fighter jets is essential for maintaining a strong air defense posture.

Developed in the 1950s as a bomber and interceptor, the F-4 Phantom saw extensive use during the Vietnam War and Operation Desert Storm. While the Phantom had impressive speed and versatility, it was less maneuverable than the single-engine MiG-21 fighters it faced in Vietnam. The South Korean air force operated around 220 F-4s at its peak, but that number has now dwindled to around 10. With the retirement of the Phantom, only Iran, Turkey, and Greece will still be flying the venerable fighter jet.

According to an ROK air force press release, the F-4E Phantom fighter jets completed their final live-fire exercises after 55 years of service. The fleet is set to officially retire on June 7, 2023, along with the AGM-142 'Popeye' missiles. "The F-4E Phantom has been a vital asset in our air defense against North Korea for over half a century," a ROKAF spokesperson stated. "While we bid farewell to this iconic aircraft, we look forward to the enhanced capabilities of our new fighter jets in protecting our nation."

Key Takeaways

  • South Korea's F-4E Phantom jets retired after 55 years of service against North Korea.
  • The F-4E was the sole ROKAF fighter capable of launching the AGM-142 'Popeye' missile.
  • The Phantom fleet will be replaced by F-35A, FA-50, and KF-21 combat aircraft.
  • The F-4 Phantom was known for its speed and versatility but less maneuverable than MiG-21s.
  • With the Phantom's retirement, only Iran, Turkey, and Greece will still operate the fighter jet.