KAI rolls out KF-21 Boramae combat aircraft prototype

Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) has rolled out the first prototype aircraft under development for the Korean Fighter eXperimental (KF-X) programme, which aims to develop a multirole platform that will replace the Republic of Korea Air Force’s (RoKAF’s) ageing F-4D/E Phantom II and F-5E/F Tiger II aircraft. The RoKAF is expected to acquire 40 KF-21s by 2028 and another 80 aircraft by 2032.

The indigenously developed twin-engine prototype was officially unveiled in a ceremony held on 9 April at KAI’s headquarters in Sacheon. The event was also attended by South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Indonesian Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto.

Now officially named KF-21 Boramae (Hawk), the ‘4.5-generation’ aircraft is powered by two General Electric F414-GE-400K engines from General Electric (GE) Aviation and is expected to have a maximum take-off weight of 25,580 kg with a payload capacity of up to 7,700 kg.

The maiden flight of the first prototype, designated aircraft 001, is scheduled for 2022 following ground testing.

KAI earlier stated that the initial production aircraft will be optimised for air-to-air combat and will have limited air-to-ground capabilities. It will feature three hardpoints under each wing for weapons and/or external fuel stores, while missiles can also be externally carried under the fuselage. Serial production aircraft, however, will be fully capable of performing both mission sets. Low-rate initial production is expected to commence from 2026, with full-rate production following from 2028.

The KF-21 will be equipped with an active electronically scanned-array (AESA) radar jointly developed by the Agency for Defense Development (ADD) and Hanwha Systems, which is claimed to be capable of detecting and tracking more than 1,000 targets simultaneously. Other local content includes an electro-optical targeting pod and an infrared search-and-track (IRST) system from Hanwha Systems, while LIG Nex1 is supplying its electronic warfare (EW) self-protection system.

The aircraft will also feature terrain following/terrain avoidance (TF/TA) systems from Israel’s Elbit Systems and several critical systems from Collins Aerospace, including its Environmental Control System (ECS) – which comprise air conditioning, bleed air control, cabin pressurization and liquid cooling systems – and Variable Speed Constant Frequency (VSCF) generator, as well as engine start components.

It will be armed with a range of European- and US-made weapons, with planned integration of systems such as the Diehl Defence IRIS-T short-range air-to-air missile and MBDA Missile Systems Meteor beyond visual range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM), as well as the Boeing GBU-31/38 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM), GBU-54/56 Laser JDAM, and GBU-39/B Small Diameter Bomb1 (SDB1) Raytheon GBU-12 Paveway II .

Indonesia is the only foreign partner in the KF-X development programme, which is known as the Indonesian Fighter eXperimental (IF-X) programme and had earlier committed to paying 20% of total development costs, although it has reportedly fallen behind on payments and is believed to be renegotiating its position.

by Jr Ng