Korea Aerospace Industries’ (KAI’s) KF-21 Boramae fighter is the first non-West European platform to be integrated with MBDA’s Meteor beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM), and a first live-fire test launch has been planned for early 2024.
KAI has already undertaken a Meteor release trial with the KF-21 – in March 2023 – dropping an unpowered and inert data gathering round, which collected important parameters in support of the first live-fire test launch. KAI and the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) started working on an advanced, indigenous fighter concept in 2002. A technology maturation phase was completed in 2012, but there was then a four-year wait for the project to gain funding approval and South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) did not launch the Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) Phase 1 programme until 2016.
The programme aims to deliver an air-to-air-capable ‘Phase 1’ KF-21 fighter by 2026, with an air-to-ground capability set to be delivered under ‘Phase 2’. The two-year EMD Phase 2 testing is scheduled to begin in 2026. A low-observable variant of the KF-21 with internal weapons bays and new surface treatments will be developed under ‘Phase 3’ from 2028. Foreign partners are being sought for these next two development phases.
The first single-seat KF-21 test aircraft completed its maiden flight on July 19, 2022, and all six flying prototypes (including a pair of dual-seat aircraft) were flown within 12 months. Three ground-test airframes were also completed. KAI plans to start production of an initial batch of 40 KF-21s in 2024, and the first operational ROKAF squadron will begin flying air-to-air missions in 2026.