• KF-21 Boramae took its first flight on July 19, 2022. (ROK Air Force via Defense News)
    KF-21 Boramae took its first flight on July 19, 2022. (ROK Air Force via Defense News)

South Korea’s indigenous KF-21 Boramae (Young Eagle) fighter jet has made its maiden flight on the 19th of July, marking another step in the East Asian nation’s efforts at developing its own arms industry.

Manufacturer Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) said that the prototype took off from Sacehon Airbase, west of the southern city of Busan with Major Ahn Junhyeon of the Republic of Korea Air Force’s Test and Evaluation Unit at the controls.

The initial flight lasted just over 30 minutes, with Maj Ahn checking the basic functions of the aircraft at speeds of up to 400 km/h (200 knots) during the flight, which saw the aircraft take to the air with four MBDA Meteor air-to-air missile mockups on its semi-recessed belly missile bays. 

KAI will now continue its development program which will eventually see six prototypes undertaking some 2,000 planned test flights to mid-2026, which is when mass production is planned to begin.

The ROKAF plans to field 120 KF-21s, which is a Gen 4.5 design with some stealthy features, by 2032. The initial forty aircraft will be delivered in Block 1 configuration and limited to air-to-air missions, while the remaining 80 subsequent aircraft will be Block 2 aircraft also capable of air-to-ground missions.

The KF-21 will contain a high degree of indigenous technologies, including an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar and an Infra-Red Search and Track (IRST) system developed by Hanwha. A radio frequency jammer and integrated electronic warfare suite is also being supplied by LIG Nex1. 

South Korea is also developing an air-launched cruise missile that will be carried by the type, which is nevertheless still being powered by a pair of US-supplied General Electric F414 afterburning turbofans, similar to those on the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. 

Doubts also persist over continued Indonesian participation in the KF-21 program. Indonesia had signed on to be a development partner responsible for 20 per cent of the costs in return for industrial participation, however it has not been paying its share in recent times and enthusiasm in the program has seemed to wane with the country seemingly set on choosing between the Boeing F-15 or French Dassault Rafale instead.



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