South Korea accelerates KF-21 development programme

KAI's KF-21
KAI's KF-21 Boramae is set to be the next-generation mainstay fighter for the Republic of Korea Air Force.

South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) said on 16 May that Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI)’s KF-21 Boramae fighter aircraft development programme has passed a “provisional combat suitability evaluation”.

According to DAPA, the milestone paves the way to accelerate aircraft manufacturing work ahead of the initial KF-21 production phase that is anticipated in 2024. The announcement comes after two years of extensive ground-based and flight trials following the rollout of the first prototype in April 2021 and the type’s maiden flight in July 2022.

The agency revealed that the latest evaluation assessed key developmental metrics such as the KF-21’s durability, structural integrity, manoeuvrability, and performance in over 200 test events over the past two years. It added that the evaluation also assessed the performance of core onboard system such as avionics, weapons, and its indigenously developed active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar.

DAPA noted that the milestone will enable plans to develop the necessary production capability for initial aircraft manufacturing to proceed. Production of the KF-21 is expected to commence by mid-2026.

KAI has made steady progress on the KF-21’s development, with other recent successes including weapons release and firing evolutions in March and early April 2023.

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.

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. A fifth prototype was also flown for the first time earlier this month.

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.

by Jr Ng