South Korea retires Phantom, readies Boramae for production

The Republic of Korea Air Force (RoKAF) has officially retired its F-4E Phantom II fleet when it stood down its last ten operational Phantom IIs during a ceremony at Suwon Air Base on 7 June, marking the end of 55 years of RoKAF Phantom F4D/E operations.

The RoKAF originally operated around 220 Phantoms in three different versions during the type’s heyday: the F-4D, RF-4C and F-4E. Most were ex-United States Air Force (USAF) aircraft, with the exception of two tranches of F-4Es acquired under the Peace Pheasant I and II Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programmes.

The last unit to operate the type, the 153rd Fighter Squadron of the RoKAF’s 10th Fighter Wing, earlier conducted a farewell flight with four specially painted aircraft commemorating it service over the years, including a Vietnam War-era camouflage paint scheme.

The four aircraft paid tribute to several airbases that had been part of its service legacy and were even escorted by two Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) KF-21 Boramae multirole combat aircraft on part of their final journey.

The indigenously developed KF-21 is a direct replacement for the Phantom. Earlier in mid-2023, the government-run Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) announced that the KF-21 programme had passed a “provisional combat suitability evaluation” that paves the way for initial production of the new aircraft.

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. DAPA noted that the milestone will enable plans to develop the necessary production capability for initial aircraft manufacturing to proceed.

The South Korean government announced in February that it will build more 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