Meet The New South Korean KF-21 “Borame” Fighter: Cheaper Than The F-35?
South Korea made the KF-21 fighter jet to scare off North Korea. But can it do more than that? South Korea successfully completed the very first flight of their KF-21 “Boramae” fighter jet earlier this week. This new fighter aircraft is a result of South Korea’s attempts to increase its defense system amid the increasing threats from North Korea. The most important thing to look at here is, will other countries be interested in buying it?
Korea Airspace Industries started the US $6.6 billion project of KF-21 to replace South Korea’s aging fighter jet fleet of F-4 and F-5 fighters. While this goal is being achieved, KF-21 is looking like a cheaper alternative to America’s Lockheed Martin F-35 Lighting II.
According to the defense analyst Sourabh Banik of the international analytics firm GlobalData, South Korea’s new KF-21 is a sign of Seoul’s continued advancements in its defense capabilities. The pace at which the Korea Aerospace industries brought the new generation fighter aircraft from the planning stage to its first flight was remarkable. Banik added that this makes South Korea the second country in Asia to fly an indigenously made stealth fighter aircraft. The first country to do was Chine. The first flight of the KF-21 fighter aircraft is also really important to Indonesia since they are providing 20 percent of the program cost and looking forward to powering up their future fighter fleet with this aircraft.
The current plan is to produce 40 Block 1 aircraft which are integrated with Diehl Defense AIM-2000 (IRIS-T), Meteor, JDAM, LJDAM, and the locally developed KGGB guided bombs. In addition, the Block I model will also have full air-to-air combat capability and limited air-to-ground capability to qualify for initial operations.
The main difference between the Block 1 version and the Block 2 version is that the Block 2 version will also offer the full air-to-ground capability and they are planning to produce 80 of this variant. The delivery of the Block 2 aircraft is planned to happen in 2028.
However, the KF-21 is not actually made to compete with the Lockheed Martin F-35 since it lacks the stealth capabilities of the US-made F-35s. The Boramae carries weapons externally on its underwings as well as in four under fuselage hardpoints.
The Korean Aerospace Industries are already discussing a Block 3 variant that could incorporate fifth-generation fighter standards including stealth and joint operation capabilities. They are also planning to design an enlarged fuselage that could include an internal weapons bay. This variant will be a cheaper alternative to the F-35 for other countries too.