South Korea’s homegrown Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) KF-21 fighter successfully carried out its first flight test Tuesday, around 6 1/2 years after its mammoth development project kicked off despite skepticism over technological obstacles, cost effectiveness and other feasibility questions. At the Republic of Korea Air Force’s 3rd Flying Training Wing in Sacheon, about 300 kilometers south of Seoul, the warplane took off, signaling South Korea is on course to join an elite club of seven countries that have locally developed supersonic fighter jets. The KAI KAI KF-21 Boramae is South Korea’s second domestic fighter jet development program, following the FA-50.The authorities had initially planned to conduct the test in the morning but delayed it by several hours due to weather conditions.
“This is the moment when South Korea’s capabilities to develop the high-tech 4.5-generation fighter jet came to realization with this first flight. As we got a step closer to the successful development of the homegrown fighter, this symbolizes a new leap in the domestic aviation technology and a rise of the strong high-tech military. The KF-21 took off at 3:40 p.m. and landed at 4:13 p.m. for the first airborne test, according to DAPA,” the South Korea Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) said in a press release.
The KAI KF-21 Boramae (formerly known as KF-X) is a South Korean fighter aircraft development program, with Indonesian involvement, with the goal of producing an advanced multirole fighter for the South Korean and Indonesian air forces. The maiden flight under the 8.8 trillion-won (US$6.67 billion) project came as the nation has been pushing to replace its aging fleet of F-4 and F-5 fighters with the high-end jet and bolster its airpower to counter North Korea’s evolving nuclear and missile threats. The airframe is stealthier than any fourth-generation fighters, but does not carry weapons in internal bays like fifth-generation fighters, though internal bays may be introduced later in development.
The final, full-scale assessment of the operational effectiveness and suitability of KF-21s will be carried out in 2026. But DAPA has set plans to pass an interim test of KF-21 fighter prototypes in 2023 to concurrently push forward the development and production of KF-21 fighter aircraft. The KF-21 program has also paved the way for South Korea to locally develop and produce fifth-and sixth-generation fighter aircraft with stealth and other advanced capabilities. The prototype of the KF-21 fighter jet was equipped with full-scale mock-ups of four Meteors, which are beyond visual range air-to-air missiles, and an infrared search and track system, the South Korean military confirmed to The Korea Herald. The KF-21 flew at a speed of around 400 kilometers per hour.