On Tuesday, the South Korean military unveiled its homegrown KF-21 Boramae jet fighter for the first time at the Seoul International Aerospace & Defense Exhibition (ADEX) 2023.
The aircraft, developed by Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), staged a public aerial demonstration at the air base in Seongnam, just south of the capital.
The aircraft has already been a major attraction at this year’s international airshow.
“Allow me to introduce the debut products. Leading the way is, undoubtedly, the KF-21,” Lee Jong-ho, the head of the Seoul ADEX organizing office, said during a press briefing on Monday.
During a five-minute flight session that was part of the show’s opening ceremony, the KF-21 demonstrated its high maneuverability and showcased various turn maneuvers. Following the flight demonstration, the aircraft was put on display for domestic and international attendees – while a twin-seat KF-21 was presented in the show’s static park. Attendees could further experience KF-21 maintenance via virtual reality goggles.
According to a report from Flight Global, KAI envisages the back seater in a two-seat KF-21 commanding the AAPs, which will perform missions such as intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR); electronic warfare; and in strike roles.
The AAPs can also serve as decoys.
Though there have been reports that Jakarta, a junior partner in the program, has been late in payments to Seoul, the aircraft on display at ADEX were seen with both South Korean and Indonesian flags. KAI officials have maintained that the KF-21 is on track, with its development to end in 2026 after its hundreds of flight tests have been completed – while mass production is set to commence by the end of next year.
The KF-21, which is being developed by KAI as part of a $6.6 billion project to replace the Republic of Korea Air Force’s (RoKAR’s) aging fleet of F-4 and F-5 fighters, is also being touted as a “cheaper” alternative to the American-made Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II.
Deliveries are slated to begin by the second half of 2026.
Current plans call for 40 Block 1 aircraft to be manufactured and integrated with Diehl Defense AIM-2000 (IRIS-T), Meteor, JDAM, LJDAM, and the locally developed KGGB-guided bombs. In addition, the Block 1 models will also have full air-to-air combat capability and limited air-to-ground capability to attain initial operating qualifications.
Already KAI is looking ahead to the Block 2 version, which will also offer full air-to-ground capability. The RoKAR is expected to receive 80 of these variants, with the delivery of the Block 2 aircraft expected to begin in 2028. The timing would allow for the aircraft to reach full operational capability status.
At this week’s ADX, KAI also showcased models of its FA-50 fighter aircraft, which is currently undergoing performance upgrades, while it also unveiled its homegrown light-armed helicopter, which completed its development last year and has since entered mass production.
Around 550 companies representing 35 countries are participating in the 14th edition of the biannual, six-day event.
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A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.