South Korea’s KF-21 project faces financial strain, trust issues with Indonesia

DAPA

The development of South Korea’s KF-21 fighter jet is facing financial pressure due to reduced contributions from Indonesia.  

Indonesia’s reduced payment of $437 million, much less than the $1.16 billion initially pledged, has raised concerns about South Korea shouldering the financial burden for the project, Seok Jong-gun, chief of South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA), said in an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo

There are lingering concerns about Indonesia’s financial reliability, as it has yet to pay the remaining $145 million of its reduced commitment. South Korea plans to monitor Indonesia’s actions closely before proceeding with full technology transfers. 

“We should not be stabbed in the back again, and we won’t be,” Seok said. “We can determine our level of response by monitoring the other party’s response. The technology transfer will be pursued in accordance with how Indonesia reacts.” 

In addition to the financial woes surrounding the program, trust between the two nations was likely eroded further when two Indonesian engineers working at Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) were accused of trying to save sensitive information onto eight USB drives. The joint investigation opened by the DAPA, the National Intelligence Service (NIS), and the Defense Counterintelligence Command (DCC) is ongoing.  

“If the investigation results show that a significant technology leak has occurred, we would reconsider cooperating at all in joint development,” Seok said. 

Despite these setbacks, the head of DAPA stated that completing the KF-21 by its 2026 deadline remains a priority, and technology transfer and prototype provision are still part of the deal. 

What is the KF-21 Boramae fighter jet?  

The KF-21 Boramae, a product of the KF-X program, was initiated in 2015 as a collaborative venture be 

The KF-21 features a passive stealth design and advanced avionics. With a wingspan of 11.2 meters (36.7 feet), it is powered by two GE Aviation F414 engines, the same as those in F/A-18E/F Super Hornets and Saab JAS 39E/F Gripens.

It has a range of 2,900 kilometers (1,800 miles) and a top speed of 2,200 kilometers per hour (1,367 miles per hour). With a maximum thrust of 44,000 pounds, the jet supports a maximum takeoff weight of 25,600 kilograms (56,218 pounds) and a maximum weapon load of 7,700 kilograms (17,000 pounds). 

While its design resembles 5th-generation fighter jets, it lacks an internal weapon bay, leading Korean media to classify it as a “4.5-generation fighter.” 

The Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) has set a target to procure 120 KF-21 fighters by 2032, intending to replace aging aircraft such as the F-4E and F-5E in its fleet. On January 10, 2024, DAPA confirmed that KAI was on track to start production of the KF-21 fighter jet in 2024.    

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