Korea’s first homegrown KF-21 fighter jet takes first flight

South Korea’s first homegrown KF-21 fighter jet successfully completed its inaugural test flight Tuesday afternoon, the country’s arms procurement agency announced.

A KF-21 Boramae fighter prototype took off for its maiden flight at 3:40 p.m. at the base of South Korea’s Air Force 3rd Training Wing in the city of Sacheon, South Gyeongsang Province, the Defense Acquisition Program Administration said. The jet flew for 33 minutes and landed at 4:13 p.m.

Major Ahn Jun-hyun of South Korea’s Air Force piloted the KF-21 prototype No.1 featuring the national flags of South Korea and Indonesia.

The maiden flight was aimed at examining KF-21’s basic flight performance such as takeoff and landing. It was also intended to examine the jet’s structural integrity before kicking off the thousands of test flights to follow. Ground tests including low, medium and high-speed taxi testing and engine ignition testing took place before the first flight.

The prototype of the KF-21 fighter jet was equipped with full-scale mock-ups of four Meteors, which are beyond visual range air-to-air missiles, and an infrared search and track system, the South Korean military confirmed to The Korea Herald. The KF-21 flew at a speed of around 400 kilometers per hour.

With the successful first test flight as momentum, South Korea’s Air Force and Korea Aerospace Industries will begin conducting around 2,200 test flights from this month until 2026 with six KF-21 fighter prototypes.

“The project of developing South Korea’s indigenous fighter jets has now entered the stage of test flights and the flight area will be expanded throughout at around 2,000 test flights,” DAPA said on the implications of the first flight.

“The system’s development will be completed in 2026 after verifying various performances and its suitability for air-to-air combat.”

The final, full-scale assessment of the operational effectiveness and suitability of KF-21s will be carried out in 2026. But DAPA has set plans to pass an interim test of KF-21 fighter prototypes in 2023 to concurrently push forward the development and production of KF-21 fighter aircraft.

The successful test flight came less than seven years after Korea Aerospace Industries started developing systems for KF-21 fighter jets in December 2015. But the achievement was made 21 years after the late President Kim Dae-jung first proposed the vision to independently develop warplanes in 2001.

The KF-21 program, dubbed KF-X, is the largest-ever defense project led by the South Korean government. The development of 4.5-generation fighter jets costs 8.8 trillion won ($6.7 trillion), of which Indonesia will contribute 20 percent.

The KF-X project consists of two stages over 13 years, from 2015 to 2028. The first stage focuses on developing aircraft and integrated logistics systems between 2015 and 2026. The second phase aims to develop aircraft capabilities to carry out air-to-surface missions between 2026 and 2028.

The KF-X project aims to replace F-4s and F-5s, obsolete fighter jets which have been operated by South Korea’s Air Force for more than 30 years and to independently develop next-generation fighter jets with capabilities required for the future battlefield environment.

The KF-21 program has also paved the way for South Korea to locally develop and produce fifth-and sixth-generation fighter aircraft with stealth and other advanced capabilities.

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