South Korea’s KF-21 Boramae Ready for Maiden Flight: Last month, the South Korean defense agency announced that was seeking to purchase additional Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II fighter jets as part of its preemptive strike strategy dubbed “Kill Chain,” which is meant to counter North Korean nuclear and missile threats.
Under the current plan, South Korea could receive 20 of the fifth-generation stealth fighters for its air force by 2030, Defense News first reported. Seoul had previously purchased 40 F-35A Block 3 fighters, and had received all of those aircraft by the end of last year. The additional jets would be the Block 4 variant, which provides various upgrades including an improved electro-optic system and are able to carry additional ordnance.
However, even as South Korea remains the largest operator of the F-35 after the United States, it has developed its own advanced fighter, the KF-21 Boramae. The aircraft, which has been developed entirely with domestic technology, has been seen to represent a significant step for South Korea’s defense industry.
The Assembly of the first prototype had begun in 2020, and the roll-out of the aircraft took place last year. The KF-21 program is currently about a month behind schedule, due largely to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Getting Ready to Take Flight
The KF-21 prototypes have been conducting various ground tests at the Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) facility in Sacheon. Pre-flight ground tests have reportedly been concluded on the six flyable prototypes as well as the two ground-testing models. Before the KF-21 is certified “operational,” all six of the prototypes must complete approximately 2,000 test flight sorties.
The first prototype took part in taxiing and engine tests in advance of its first flight, which is scheduled to take place later this month. Video of that ground test was shared on Monday via YouTube.
This included operations of the General Electric F414-GE-400K engines, while the runway tests are largely seen as an indication that the maiden flight could take place in the coming weeks or even days. Multiple reports suggest that the flight will occur on July 22.
South Korea has been developing the KF-21 to replace its aging fleet of F-4E Phantom II and F-5E/F Tiger II fighters. The Republic of Korean Air Force (ROKAF) is expected to induct some 40 KF-21s by 2028, with a goal of having a full fleet of 120 aircraft deployed by 2032. In addition, 50 of the jets will be provided to Indonesia, which is a junior partner in the program.
While an advanced aircraft, the KF-21 isn’t meant to supersede the Lockheed Martin F-35. It lacks the stealth capabilities of the American-built aircraft, as it carries weapons externally on its six underwing and four under-fuselage hardpoints. The South Korean aircraft thus would complement its fleet of F-35s, while future plans call for a derivative that would utilize an internal weapons bay. In addition, the KF-21 Block 1 variants will have only air-to-air capabilities, while the subsequent Block 2 will be able to conduct air-to-ground operations.
However, these small steps show that South Korea could soon be the next military aviation powerhouse.
Now a Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes.