South Korean KF-21 Boramae fighter will begin production despite testing

The country’s Ministry of Defense allocated around US$179 million to the program in 2024 to build the first 40 KAI supersonic jets

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.

KAI KF-21 Boramae (KAI)

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.

The KF-21 004 (KAI)

The local government has been experiencing budget constraints as it negotiates the purchase of more fighter jets such as the F-15 and Rafale.

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.

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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.


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