South Korea unveiled its homegrown KF-21 Boramae (Hawk) supersonic stealth jet fighter on Friday, joining an exclusive club of military aviation giants and setting the stage for a $5.2 billion program it hopes will be a top export driver and jobs creator.
According to the Republic of Korea Armed Forces Facebook page, the first flight of KF-21 (former KF-X) will take place about a year from now.
A total of 8 prototypes (6 flying & 2 ground testing) will undergo rigorous testings until mass production begins in 2026, with a goal of 40 jets deployed by 2028 and 120 by 2032.
Once operational, the KF-21 jet is expected to be armed with a range of air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles — and possibly even air-launched cruise missiles.
The twin-engine fighters will come in single- and two-seat versions, depending on the missions to which they are tasked.
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“A new era of independent defense has begun, and it’s a historic milestone in the development of the [South Korean] aviation industry,” President Moon Jae-in said at the rollout of the KF-21, nicknamed Boramae, or “young hawk trained for hunting,” at the production plant of Korea Aerospace Industries in Sacheon, South Gyeongsang province.
Moon said after ground and flight tests are completed, mass production of the KF-21 will begin with a goal of 40 jets deployed by 2028 and 120 by 2032.
“When full-scale mass production begins, 100,000 additional jobs will be created and we’ll have an added value of 5.9 trillion Korean won ($5.2 billion). The effect will be much greater if they’re exported,” Moon said.
South Korea is expected to produce six KF-21 prototypes for testing and development, the first three to be completed by the end of this year and the next three in the first half of 2022, according to the country’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA).
At a commencement ceremony of Korea Air Force Academy on March 20, 2001, President Kim Dae-jung made a promise to cadets that signaled the beginning KF-X project, the country’s single largest defense development program worth 8.8 trillion won ($7.8 billion).
“We’ll let you cadets ride fighter jets developed by Korea,” he said.
At the event, President Moon-jae paid tribute to the technicians of KAI, the nation’s sole aircraft manufacturer who have led the KF-X project since 2016.
This 20-year-old pledge finally came to fruition this year, as KF-21 Boramae, the first prototype of the KF-X project, was unveiled Friday at a roll-out ceremony at Korea Aerospace Industries’ manufacturing facility in Sacheon, South Gyeongsang Province.
“From its design to production, Korean technicians led all stages of the development of KF-21. In this process, Korea localized key equipment essential for a 4.5-generation fighter such as active electronically scanned array, or AESA radar,” a Cheong Wa Dae official said
When KF-21 Boramae successfully completes its test flights, Korea will become the 13th country in the world to indigenously develop a fighter jet.
“When a program director of Lockheed Martin first looked at the timeline of KF-X project, the official said that the project would need a miracle to succeed,’” said Ryu Kwang-su, head of aircraft program division, during an interview with The Herald Business, the Korean-language sister paper of The Korea Herald.
It took Lockheed Martin almost 20 years and at least $59.2 billion to develop F-35 fighter jets. KAI, which embarked on the project in January 2016, managed to come up with a prototype in five years with a budget less than one-sixth as big.