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 be available in single-seater and two-seater versions, depending on the missions to which they are entrusted.
“A new era of independent defense has begun, and this is a historic milestone in the development of [South Korean] aviation industry, ”said President Moon Jae-in during the deployment of the KF-21, nicknamed Boramae, or“ young hawk trained to hunt ”, to the Korea Aerospace Industries production plant in Sacheon, in the South Gyeongsang Province.
Moon said that once ground and flight tests are completed, mass production of the KF-21 will begin with a target of 40 jets deployed by 2028 and 120 by 2032.
“When large-scale mass production begins, 100,000 more jobs will be created and we will have an added value of 5.9 trillion Korean won ($ 5.2 billion). The effect will be much greater if they are are exported, ”Moon said.
South Korea is expected to produce six KF-21 prototypes for testing and development, with 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 program administration. defense acquisition (DAPA) of the country. .
While only 65% of the KF-21 is of South Korean origin, its deployment still marks a significant achievement for a country that does not have a long history of aircraft production.
“When final tests are completed in the future, South Korea will become the eighth country in the world to have developed an advanced supersonic fighter,” a government statement said.
These countries are the United States, Russia, China, Japan, France, Sweden and a European consortium of the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy and Spain.
Of these, only the United States and China have deployed nationally-made fifth-generation fighter jets – aircraft with stealth technologies, radar jamming capabilities, and advanced avionics that incorporate on-board data and remotely to give pilots a complete, real-time picture of their operation, according to NATO’s Joint Air Power Competence Center.
While DAPA calls the KF-21 a 4.5-generation fighter jet because it lacks, for example, an internal weapons compartment that increases stealth, analysts say it could fly taller and faster than the latest US-made fifth-generation fighter. , the F-35, and still carry a heavy load of weapons.
“The KF-21 is the first fighter aircraft manufactured with domestic technology, and it indicates that South Korea is now in a position to build its own fighter jets.” It will also be a springboard for developing better fighter jets and using locally developed weapons, “a DAPA statement told CNN.
The KF-21 is a joint project between South Korea and Indonesia in which Seoul has an 80% stake while Jakarta seeks 20%. South Korea says Indonesia is behind in payments to the project, but negotiations are continuing and Jakarta’s defense minister was at the launch on Friday.
Moon praised Indonesia for her role. “In particular, I thank the Indonesian government for becoming a partner who believed in South Korea’s potential,” he said.
The new fighter is expected to replace South Korea’s F-4 and F-5 fighters, third-generation jets first designed in the United States in the 1960s.
As production ramps up, it could also replace South Korea’s fourth-generation F-16s and F-15Ks, wrote analyst Abraham Ait, editor of Military Watch Magazine last year.
South Korea also operates F-35 stealth fighters, receiving the first of an order for 40 aircraft in 2018.
While the KF-21 could potentially replace hundreds of combat aircraft in the South Korean fleet, it also has significant export potential, as its price is expected to be significantly lower than that of the F-35s that the U.S. United sells to foreign armed forces.
Thailand, the Philippines and maybe even Iraq “could be the fighter’s main customers,” Ait wrote, noting that these countries all operate the same type of aircraft that the KF-21 will replace in the South Fleet. Korean. They were also customers of the FA-50 light attack fighter developed locally in South Korea.
If Seoul is successful in marketing the KF-21 as an export product, the trend will continue for South Korea. According to statistics from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Seoul’s arms exports were 210% higher from 2016 to 2020 than in the previous five years, giving South Korea a share 2.7% of the global arms market.
Government spokesman Lim Se-eun said on Thursday that South Korea plans to build its own surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, electronic warfare capability, strengthen its air defenses, build more powerful guided weapons and to secure an independent satellite navigation system and space warfare capability – all with the goal of being among the top seven countries in the global aviation industry by 2030.