The South Korean government will not wait for the end of development tests on the indigenous KF-21 Boramae fighter, scheduled for 2026, before starting to produce it.
To this end, the Ministry of Defense has allocated a budget of around US$179 million in 2024 to begin production of the first batch of 40 aircraft.
The KF-21 is a project by Korea Aerospace Industries, which has been developing the 4.5+ fighter since 2015. The first prototype only flew for the first time in 2022, but the program already has six test aircraft, including a variant of two seats.
Although it has a stealthy configuration, the Boramae is not “invisible to radars”. The aircraft is equipped with engines based on the GE F414 manufactured under license.
The KF-21 can fly at Mach 1.8 and would have a combat range of 1,000 km. It can be equipped with a wide variety of missiles and ground attack weapons.
The Republic of Korea Air Force plans to retire aging F-4 Phantom and F-5 Tiger II fighters with the Boramae from the second half of 2026.
In total, the ROKAF is expected to have around 120 KF-21 jets by 2032.
Partnerships and potential customers
KAI also hopes to make the new fighter an export product. The program has a partnership with Indonesia, although the country has been late in its payments since 2017.
There are also surveys from countries such as Poland, which recently ordered the FA-50 light fighter, the United Arab Emirates, the Philippines and, more recently, Saudi Arabia.
The Saudis, however, have reportedly discussed participating in the development of the KF-21. The Middle Eastern country’s air force is expanding its fighter fleet and is trying to acquire new batches of Eurofighter and F-15, in addition to studying a proposal from Dassault for the Rafale.