South Korea’s KF-21 fighter jet production gears up for 2024 launch

Korea Aerospace Industries

The Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) has confirmed that South Korea is on track to commence the production of its domestically developed KF-21 fighter jet in 2024.  

The information was first reported by Yonhap News on January 10, 2024, quoting a DAPA official. DAPA aims to finalize a contract with Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), the manufacturer of the KF-21, within the first half of 2024.  

The DAPA is also conducting extreme environmental tests ahead of mass production of KF-21. The test, held at South Korea’s Agency for Defense Development’s (ADD) maritime test site until February 2024, will verify whether the aircraft and avionics operate normally in extreme environments such as low temperature, high temperature, rain, and freezing. 

What is the KF-21 Boramae fighter jet? 

The KF-21 Boramae was developed through the KF-X program, a collaborative effort between South Korea and Indonesia initiated in 2015. The program is expected to reach 8.1 trillion won (approximately US$6.1 billion) by 2026. 

Equipped with two F414 engines sourced from GE Aviation, the same engines powering F/A-18E/F Super Hornets and Saab JAS 39E/F Gripens, the KF-21 boasts a passive stealth design and advanced avionics. Unlike 5th generation fighter jets, however, it does not have an internal weapon bay. As such, it has been described as a “4.5 generation fighter”. 

The KF-21 features a wingspan of 11.2 meters (36.7 feet). It has a range of 2,900 kilometers (1,800 miles) and a top speed reaching 2,200 kilometers per hour (1,367 miles per hour). Powered by a maximum thrust of 44,000 pounds, this fighter jet has a substantial maximum takeoff weight of 25,600 kilograms (56,218 pounds) and a maximum weapon load capacity of 7,700 kilograms (17,000 pounds).

The inaugural aircraft prototype took to the skies for the first time on July 19, 2022, and achieved supersonic speed on January 17, 2023. In total, six KF-21 prototypes have undergone successful test flights, encompassing various performance assessments including night flight and weapon separation tests.  

The Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) aims to acquire 120 KF-21 fighters by 2032 to replace aging fighters like the F-4E and F-5E. 

Addressing Indonesia’s late payments 

Despite meeting its deadlines, some uncertainties loom over the project due to Indonesia’s overdue payments, estimated at nearly 1 trillion won ($760 million) as of October 2023. Seoul was slated to cover about 60% of the cost, with Jakarta and KAI contributing approximately 20% each. Negotiations have been underway for Jakarta to submit an updated payment plan. 

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