South Korea has finally unveiled the first prototype of its KF-X fighter programme, which is now officially designated the ‘KF-21 Boramae’ in a ceremony on Friday.
The Boramae, which translates to ‘Hawk’ in English, was shown with a spectacular unveiling ceremony and is South Korea’s most ambitious and costliest weapons development program. It is expected to conduct its maiden flight in 2022, and the country is expecting to induct 40 such fighters by the next seven years and have the full fleet of 120 aircraft deployed by 2032.
The fighter is described as a twin engine multirole jet, and despite its physical resemblance to stealth aircraft, it is a fourth-generation fighter jet and does not carry weapons in internal weapons bays. The aircraft has 10 hardpoints capable of mounting advanced air to air and ground strike munitions including the Meteor, AIM-120 AMRAAM, AIM-9 Sidewinder, IRIS-T, and even air launched cruise missiles (ALCM). However, it isn’t clear if the aircraft would carry an internal cannon.
The weapons have already been selected for the type’s Block-2 version, which include GBU-12 Paveway II, GBU-31/38 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM), GBU-54/56 Laser JDAM, GBU-39/B Small Diameter Bomb I, and the CBU‐105 Wind Corrected Munitions Dispenser (WCMD). All these stores are currently in ROKAF service which should accelerate the integration process.
The KF-21, a result of the KF-X advanced multirole jet fighter project is intended to produce modern warplanes to replace South Korea’s ageing F-4D/E Phantom II and F-5E/F Tiger II aircraft and shall complement the F-35 Lightning II fighters in the future. The country has already received 24 F-35s from the United States.
However, developing an own fighter jet comes with its own set of challenges, and the development agency KAI has already amassed vast experience in producing military aircraft including its homegrown FA-50 light combat aircraft and the local production of F-16C/Ds in use by the ROKAF. In an analysis by the defense analyst Thomas Newdick, he notes thhat the aircraft indeed possesses some low-observable features adopting the canted twin tails, fuselage shaping, and edge alignment, among other features, established by the F-22 and F-35.
While not providing all-aspect stealth shown by these American fifth-generation fighters, this twin-engine jet is intended to fill the gap between the F-35 and the F-16, in terms of capabilities, but should be cheaper overall than the F-35, the sustainment cost of which is a cause for concern in the United States and elsewhere.
The project is also joined by Indonesia, which has promised to pay 20% of the development cost and acquisition of 50 examples for its own air force. The prototype that came to display on Friday also had the South Korean and Indonesian flag markings. According to the released brochure specifications, the aircraft shall be able to achieve maximum speed of Mach 1.81, and a maximum takeoff weight of around 25 tonnes powered by two Hanwha Techwin General Electric F414-KI afterburning turbofan engines producing 57.8 kN (13,000 lbf) thrust each.