KAI KF-21 programme scores new development milestones


Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI) has made steady progress on its KF-21 Boramae multirole combat aircraft development, with the latest successes including weapons release and firing evolutions in March and early April, according to statements from the manufacturer and the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA).

On 7 April, DAPA announced the successful test launch of an AIM-2000 IRIS-T (InfraRed Imaging System-Tail control) air-to-air missile for the first time. The test was conducted on 4 April and builds on the launch of a Meteor missile on 28 March.

“The AIM-2000 used in this test has a different firing method [compared with the] Meteor used in the armed separation test on March 28,” stated DAPA, noting that the IRIS-T was launched from a rail-type wing mount as opposed to the Meteor which was released via the KF-21’s semi-recessed ventral missile bay.

KAI added that the short-range IRIS-T missile was launched by igniting the propellant to propel it from the wing mount rail. In contrast, the much larger Meteor long-range was released using gravity before engaging its motor.

Another prototype aircraft was also used to test fire the onboard 20 mm rotary cannon. About 100 rounds were fired to assess the effect of recoil on the airframe and other subsystems.

Since the KF-21’s first flight in July 2022, four prototypes have conducted more than 150 flight tests, according to DAPA. The fourth prototype, which is a twin-seat variant, conducted its maiden flight on 20 February. The first three prototypes are all single seaters.

The KF-21 is domestically classed as a ‘4.5-generation’ multirole platform that will replace the Republic of Korea Air Force (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.

KAI earlier stated that 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.

by Jr Ng