As tensions between the U.S., North Korea, and South Korea reach a fever pitch, military planners in Seoul are considering turning one of their small Dokdo-class helicopter carriers into an F-35B carrier.
"The military top brass have recently discussed whether they can introduce a small number of F-35B fighters" to new South Korean helicopter carrier ships, a military source told South Korea's Yonhap News Agency.
South Korea operates a small but capable navy featuring a single 14,000 ton helicopter carrier known as the ROKs Dokdo. Seoul is planning to build an additional two ships of this type, with the next expected to be ready in 2020.
An F-35B Lightning II takes off from the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp on May 25, 2015. | US Navy Photo
The ships can support up to 10 helicopters. For scale, US Nimitz class aircraft carriers displace 100,000 tons and can support around 80 aircraft, both planes and helicopters.
But the F-35's Marine variant, the F-35B, isn't a regular plane. It can takeoff almost vertically and also land straight down. With minor adjustments to the already-planned aircraft building — mainly strengthening the runway material to withstand the friction and heat of jet engines landing — South Korea's small helicopter carriers could become potent F-35B carriers.
South Korea already plans to buy 40 F-35As, the Air Force variant that takes off and lands on runways like a normal plane. The F-35B would be a new addition that would require additional planning and infrastructure.
Should South Korea decide to make the leap into the aircraft-carrier club, they would end up as a potent sea power and with a plane that's capable of taking down ballistic missile launches. With its advanced sensors and networking ability, the F-35 could provide a massive boost to South Korea's already impressive naval capabilities.
Additionally, the presence of stealth aircraft in South Korea presents a nightmare scenario for Kim Jong Un, whose country's rudimentary defenses and radars can't hope to spot advanced aircraft like the F-35.
The F-35B has excellent stealth characteristics that mean North Korea wouldn't even know if the planes were overhead.
The US built the F-35 to penetrate the most heavily guarded airspaces on earth and to fool the most advanced anti-aircraft systems for decades to come. Built to counter superpowers like China and Russia, the F-35 could handily overpower anything North Korea could throw at it.