• Display at ADEX 2023.
Credit: Nigel Pittaway
    Display at ADEX 2023. Credit: Nigel Pittaway

Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) has revealed that it plans to develop a family of uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAV), culminating in an Uncrewed Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV) that will be controlled and/or monitored from its indigenous KF-21 fighter.

The KF-21 Boramae (‘Young Hawk’ or ‘Fighting Hawk’) is a 4.5 generation fighter with stealth characteristics under development by KAI to replace the Republic of Korea Air Force’s ageing F-4E Phantom II and F-5E Tiger II fighter jets.

KAI proposes to utilise the twin-seat variant of the KF-21 in the Manned-Unmanned Teaming (MUM-T) role from the early 2030s. Currently designed as a trainer for the single-seat KF-21, the twin-seat aircraft made the Boramae’s public flying debut at ADEX 2023.

“We Have three stages of development of a UAV,” explained KAI’s Vice President and Head of International Business Development JaeHong Jake Kim.

“The first stage – as a test stage – we will develop a small UAV called ALE (Air Launched Effects), which will be integrated into the (KAI) FA-50 (Fighting Eagle). Once we have successfully proved the ALE concept and technology for high-speed and high-volume communication and Artificial Intelligence (AI), we’ll move into the second phase, with an AAP (Adaptable Aerial Platform), which will be bigger and have longer endurance than the ALE.”

The AAP will be integrated onto the KF-21, which will control “at least four” UAVs.

“In the third and final phase, we are targeting the development of a UCAV and at least four will operate with a KF-21,” Mr Kim added.

“In the future, we can provide our KF-21 aircraft as a package with unmanned aircraft.”

Korea’s Minister for its Defence Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) Eom Dong-hwan said that the MUM-T program was being run in parallel with work to upgrade the KF-21 from a 4.5 generation to 5th generation fighter aircraft.

“We’ll first integrate a UAV with rotary wing aircraft, then the FA-50,” he said. “It’s premature to know what kind of success we’ll have and when the project will be finished. However, our approach to this technology is ongoing and I strongly believe that we will be able to see the fruition of this project.

“Once we have matured the project, the mature technology will be applied to the KF-21.”

Disclaimer: The writer stayed in Seoul as a guest of the Korean Government

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