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South Korea’s domestically developed KAI KF-21 Boramae fighter jet is ready for its first flight, signaling a big step forward in the country’s efforts to produce a stealth aircraft.
Six flight prototypes and two rescue prototypes of the KF-21 are currently used to conduct ground tests, according to a report published by the Kookbang Ilbo, the official publication of the South Korean Ministry of National Defense.
The report further revealed that the six flyable prototypes had finished 50% of their ground testing, and one of them cleared 95% of the pre-flight tests.
The remaining tests, including high-speed runs, are expected to be finished in the next few days, with the first flight set for July 2022.
The six prototypes will conduct over 2,000 test flights before serial production begins in 2026. By 2032, Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI) aims to produce 120 KF-21s.
Before serial production starts in 2026, the six prototypes will conduct over 2,000 test flights. By 2032, Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI) aims to produce 120 KF-21s.
According to the images released by the newspaper, at least one of the prototypes – designated 004 – is a never-before-seen two-seater model. The aircraft is generally referred to as a 4.5-generation fighter jet with stealth capabilities.
However, the program also ran into various roadblocks. A series of political crises have revolved around the plane, including a feud between South Korea and Indonesia over the payments, as previously reported by the EurAsian Times.
However, in November 2021, Indonesia finally agreed to pay South Korea the requisite amount and get the program back on track.
Integrating block enhancements, the KF-21 Boramae will gradually evolve in combat and survival capabilities. Block 2 will be a more sophisticated aircraft with an internal weapon bay, improving stealth capabilities.
The Block 3 aircraft is said to be advanced enough to place it in the league of the F-35 or F-22. Although the country intends to go much further, progressively equipping its KF-21 with sixth-generation aircraft features.
Among other things, the future Korean fighter will be equipped with laser weapons and artificial intelligence. Plus, the jet can conduct combat operations with unmanned aircraft such as the stealthy Stingray.
South Korea is acquiring air-to-air missiles from European companies MBDA and Diehl BGT for the first batch of KF-21s. The KF-21 may replace the country’s aging fleet of F-5E/F Tiger IIs, F-4 Phantoms, and some older F-16C/Ds and F-15K Slam Eagles.
The KF-21, despite its apparent similarities to the F-35, is a twin-engine jet with prototypes powered by two General Electric F414-GE-400K engines. For the complete fleet of 120 planes, GE will deliver 240 F414s.
The radar cross-section of the KF-21 Boramae is believed to be down to 1-.1 square meters. Its equipment and software architecture will be comparable to fifth-generation aircraft like the F-35 Lightning II.
The aircraft will be equipped with an upgraded AESA (active electronically scanning phased array) radar developed by the Agency for Defense and Development (ADD) and Hanwha Systems.
The sensor section will be supplemented with passive frontal systems like the IRST (an infrared tracking device comparable to those used by European or Russian aircraft) and improved optronic tracking and targeting technology under the cockpit, akin to the F-35’s EOTS.
It will be equipped with a sophisticated electronic warfare and self-defense system to improve the aircraft’s situational awareness and survivability. The KF-21 will be a safe aircraft thanks to triple redundancy flight computers and autonomous collision avoidance and recovery system that can save the aircraft if the pilot loses orientation.
The country will seek to export this aircraft to friendly countries to support the entire program and advance the aircraft technology.
South Korea has already supplied the FA-50 Fighting Eagle to countries such as the Philippines and Iraq, and this future 4.5 generation aircraft will allow it to leverage the potential of its growing defense sector.
The country is looking to sell the KF-21 to countries like Iraq, Malaysia, Peru, the Philippines, Qatar, Senegal, and Thailand.
South Korea is currently in a security dilemma because of North Korea’s aggressive missile test. With such a serious security challenge in front of it, this stealthy aircraft will undoubtedly play a vital role to deter North Korea.
The exports are also crucial for the Boramae program’s future success, which would depend on its ability to retain its human resource. The KF-21 employs thousands of qualified professionals, allowing the company to expand and project itself into the future, especially given its CEO’s intentions to establish KAI as the largest aerospace company in Asia by 2030.