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Fighter jets

S.Korea rolls out next-generation fighter jet KF-21 with local technology

By Apr 09, 2021 (Gmt+09:00)

Korea's first prototype of its next-generation fighter, the KF-21
Korea's first prototype of its next-generation fighter, the KF-21

South Korea on Friday unveiled a prototype of its homegrown fighter jet, the KF-21, two decades after it vowed to develop a next-generation supersonic combat plane using local technology for key components.

The KF-21, nicknamed Boramae and unveiled at the production plant of Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) in Sacheon, South Gyeongsang Province, will gradually replace the country’s aging fleet of F-4 and F-5 fighters, third-generation US-designed jets introduced in the 1960s.

Once fully operational, the combat plane, dubbed a 4.5-generation jet because of the lack of a stealth function, could also replace Korea's fourth-generation F-16s and F-15Ks.

“A new era of independent defense has begun, and it's a historic milestone in the development of Korea’s aviation industry,” President Moon Jae-in said at the rollout of the KF-21.

The Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA), the arms procurement agency, said in a statement that the rollout of the prototype is a major step in the development process as it means “we are entering the phase of testing the fighter's capabilities after actually building what before we had only drawn.”

The government and the Air Force plan to put to test the latest fighter jet over the next five years, with the first flight slated for later 2022, when five other test models are ready. After ground and flight tests are completed, mass production of the KF-21 will begin with a goal of 40 jets deployed by 2028 and a total of 120 by 2032.

With a maximum payload of 7,700 kilograms, the new warplane will have 10 pods for air-to-air missiles and other weapons, capable of flying at 2,200 kph with a flying range of 2,900 km.


When the development is complete, South Korea will become the eighth country to have developed a supersonic fighter jet with its own technology.

According to the DAPA, about 65% of the KF-21 is of South Korean origin, as the US government notified Korea in 2015 it won’t transfer key technology for making the latest fighter jet model, citing national security.

So, the arms procurement agency and state-run KAI joined hands with some 700 domestic defense-related companies, including Hanwha Systems Co., Hanwha Aerospace Co. and LIG Nex1 Co. for the development of 30,000 major parts of the KF-21.

The Agency for Defense Development, the state-run defense research institute, and Hanwha Systems jointly developed an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar used to detect and track multiple targets.

Hanwha also developed an infrared search and track (IRST) system and an electro-optical targeting pod (EO TGP), another set of equipment used for detecting and tracking objects during a warfare situation.

LIG Nex1 developed radio frequency (RF) jammers.

Officials said Hanwha Aerospace will develop the engine of the KF-21 after acquiring related technology from General Electric.

President Moon Jae-in speaks at the unveiling of the next-generation fighter prototype. 
President Moon Jae-in speaks at the unveiling of the next-generation fighter prototype. 


According to a state-run defense research institute, the KF-21 project is expected to lead to an added economic value of 5.9 trillion won ($5.2 billion) by 2028, creating 11,854 new jobs by 2016.

The fighter jet project is also expected to help grow the country’s maintenance and repair organization (MRO) business with greater export potential of Korean warplanes.

The KF-21 is a joint project between South Korea and Indonesia in which Seoul holds a 80% stake while Jakarta seeks 20%. South Korea says Indonesia is behind in payments to the project.

Friday's event was attended by President Moon and other government and military officials, as well as representatives from Indonesia, led by its Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto.

Write to Young Chan Song and Kyung-Min Kang at

In-Soo Nam edited this article.
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