KF-21 Boramae achieves aerial refuelling milestone

South Korea’s indigenous KF-21 Boramae multirole combat aircraft performed its first aerial refuelling trial on 19 March, the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) announced.

According to DAPA, a Republic of Korea Air Force (RoKAF) KC-330 tanker aircraft refuelled KF-21 prototype Number 5 over waters off the southern coast after the fighter launched from Sacheon, 296 kilometres southeast of Seoul.

The agency added that the tanker used its flying boom to transfer the fuel to the KF-21 prototype, noting that a single refuelling mission is expected to extend the aircraft’s operational range by at least 50%.

“Aerial refuelling is an essential capability for modern fighter jets,” said DAPA in a release.

“It can expand the KF-21’s operational range and time to maximize the air force’s combat capabilities, such as in long-range missions,” added DAPA, noting that it plans to conduct further aerial refuelling trials at various flight altitudes and speeds.

DAPA earlier announced in mid-2023 that the KF-21 programme – which is being led by Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) – 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. 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.

Seoul revealed in February that it will build KF-21 aircraft in 2024 with an allocated budget of around US$178 million, although serial production is not expected to commence until 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.

by Jr Ng