Military Aviation

South Korean F-4 Phantom IIs conduct final live-fire training of AGM-142 Popeye before retirement

South Korean F-4 Phantom IIs conduct final live-fire training

Ahead of the official retirement of the iconic F-4 Phantom II, a mainstay of the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) for over three decades, the service’s 10th Combat Wing conducted the final live-fire training exercise for the type.

The venerable Phantom II is slated to be retired on Jun. 7, 2024.

As noted by Alert 5, the exercise involved four F-4 Phantoms equipped with AGM-142 missiles. Pilots executed a flawless mission, successfully engaging targets 40 kilometers away.

“We’ve flown the Phantom with pride for over three decades,” said a pilot who participated in the exercise in the video featured in this article. “It’s a bittersweet moment to be a part of its retirement.”

According to a ROKAF press release, exercises with MK-82 air-to-ground bombs were also conducted.

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After 55 years of service, the ROKAF fleet of F-4 Phantom IIs will be retired along with the AGM-142 “Popeye” missiles.

ROKAF F-4 Phantom IIs

The mighty Phantom II was introduced to the ROKAF in 1969.

The Park Chung-hee government ordered 16 ex-USAF F-4Ds, which were quickly delivered under the Peace Spectator program. They served with the 110th TFS, 11th Fighter Wing based at Daegu since 1969. In 1972 another 18 were delivered from the USAF 3rd TFW (Tactical Fighter Wing), in exchange for which South Korea delivered 36 Northrop F-5As to South Vietnam. Several more F-4s were delivered in the following years, with the last batch delivered in 1987–88. These were equipped with Pave Tack laser designators, an important feature that allowed the use of laser-guided bombs.

A total of 92 F-4Ds were delivered, making this air force the main export customer for the “D” model. The F-4Ds were joined by 37 new-build F-4Es, ordered in the 1970s. The last of these was the 5,068th F-4 built in St. Louis. Under Operation Peace Pheasant these were delivered to the ROKAF 152 and 153 TFS (Tactical Fighter Squadron), 17th TFW at Cheongju. This was only the beginning of South Korean F-4 acquisitions, as more ex-USAF F-4Es were delivered in the next few years, giving a total of 103 F-4Es.

The F-4 served as South Korea’s mainstay fighter until the full deployment of the KF-16 in 1994.

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The AGM-142

The AGM-142 “Popeye” precision-guided air-to-ground missiles are a prominent armament closely associated with the F-4E.

The ROKAF press release also stated that the AGM-142 was the sole long-range strategic weapon capable of precision strikes on targets in North Korea until the operational deployment of the AGM-84H SLAM-ER standoff missile in 2007.

The AGM-142 missiles will be replaced by a combination of TAURUS and SLAM-ER missiles.

As reported by NK News, ROKAF F-4E Phantom IIs were last seen performing an “Elephant walk” in March 2024, which featured more than 30 full-armed military aircraft from the joint US-ROK forces taxiing in formation in a show of force.

The drill came a day after Kim Jong Un supervised artillery firing drills involving border units capable of striking Seoul amidst the US-ROK Freedom Shield Exercises.

Photo credit: Republic of Korea Air Force

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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