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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. During the course of the war, though, 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 were moved to Daebangdong, Seoul. Air Force University was also founded in 1956.
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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.
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.
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.
The Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) KF-21 Boramae (Northern Goshawk) is a multi-role 4.5 generation fighter. 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.
In October 2017, the US approved the sale of 123 upgrade kits to Greece to bring their existing F-16C and D fighters up to the new F-16V standard. On 28 April 2018, Greece decided to upgrade 84 aircraft.
On 30 September 2021, Turkey sent a formal request to the United States to purchase 40 new F-16V Block 70/72 aircraft and nearly 80 kits to modernize its F-16C/D fighters to F-16V Block 70/72 variant.
In May 2021, the U.S. Air Force had awarded a $14 billion contract to Lockheed Martin to build new 128 Block 70/72 F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jets on behalf of Bahrain, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Taiwan, Morocco and Jordan through 2026.
The F-16 Air Defense Fighter (ADF) was a special variant of the Block 15 optimized for the United States Air National Guard's fighter interception mission. Begun in 1989, 270 airframes were modified. Avionics were upgraded (including the addition of an Identification friend or foe (IFF) interrogator with "bird-slicing" IFF antennas), and a spotlight fitted forward and below the cockpit, for night-time identification. This was the only US version equipped with the AIM-7 Sparrow air-to-air missile. Beginning in 1994, these aircraft began to be replaced by newer F-16C variants. By 2005, only the 119th Fighter Group "Happy Hooligans," North Dakota Air National Guard, was flying this variant, with these last examples retired from the US service by 2007.[a]
The initial YF-16 prototype was reconfigured in December 1975 to serve as the USAF Flight Dynamics Laboratory's Control-Configured Vehicle (CCV) testbed. The CCV concept entails "decoupling" the aircraft's flight control surfaces so that they can operate independently. This approach enables unusual maneuvers such as being able to turn the airplane without banking it. The ability to maneuver in one plane without simultaneously moving in another was seen as offering novel tactical performance capabilities for a fighter. The CCV YF-16 design featured twin pivoting ventral fins mounted vertically underneath the air intake, and its triply redundant fly-by-wire (FBW) flight control system (FCS) was modified to permit use of flaperons on the wings' trailing edges which would act in combination with an all-moving stabilator. The fuel system was redesigned to enable adjustment of the aircraft's center of gravity by transferring fuel from one tank to another. The CCV aircraft achieved its first flight on 16 March 1976. The flight test program ran until 30 June 1977, and was marred only by a hard landing on 24 June 1976 that delayed testing until repairs were effected. The CCV program was judged successful and led to a more ambitious follow-on effort in the form of the "Advanced Fighter Technology Integration" (AFTI) F-16. The first effort accomplished under the AFTI program was a paper study with three separate contractors (i.e., McDonnell Douglas, Fairchild Republic, Rockwell International) to design an advanced aircraft technology demonstrator using new concepts such as direct lift control, direct side force control and drag modulation.
The F-16 Agile Falcon was a variant proposed by General Dynamics in 1984 that featured a 25% larger wing, upgraded engine, and some already planned MSIP IV improvements for the basic F-16. Unsuccessfully offered as a low-cost alternative for the Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF) competition, some of its capabilities were incorporated into the F-16C/D Block 40, and the Agile Falcon would serve as the basis for developing Japan's F-2 fighter.
The DSI concept (Diverterless supersonic inlet) was introduced into the JAST/JSF program as a trade study item in mid-1994.The first Lockheed DSI was flown on 11 December 1996 as part of a Technology Demonstration project. A DSI was installed on an F-16 Block 30 fighter, replacing the aircraft's original intake diverter. The modified F-16 demonstrated a maximum speed of Mach 2.0 (Mach 2.0 is the F-16's clean certified maximum speed) and handling characteristics similar to a normal F-16. Subsonic specific excess power was slightly improved.The trade studies involved additional CFD, testing, and weight and cost analyses. A DSI was later incorporated into the design of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II after proving to be 30% lighter and showing lower production and maintenance costs over traditional inlets while still meeting all performance requirements.
In response to President Jimmy Carter's February 1977 directive to curtail arms proliferation by selling only reduced-capability weapons to foreign countries, General Dynamics developed a modified export-oriented version of the F-16A/B designed for use with the outdated General Electric J79 turbojet engine. Northrop competed for this market with its F-20 Tigershark. Accommodating the J79-GE-119 engine required modification of the F-16's inlet, the addition of steel heat shielding, a transfer gearbox (to connect the engine to the existing F-16 gearbox), and an 18-inch (46 cm) stretch of the aft fuselage. First flight occurred on 29 October 1980. The total program cost to develop the F-16/J79 was $18 million (1980), and the unit flyaway cost was projected to be about $8 million. South Korea, Pakistan and other nations were offered these fighters but rejected them, resulting in numerous exceptions being made to sell standard F-16s; with the later relaxation of the policy under President Carter in 1980 and its cancellation under President Ronald Reagan, no copies of either the F-16/79 or the F-20 were ultimately sold.