KAI rolls out first KF-X prototype

Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) has rolled out the first prototype for its highly anticipated indigenously-developed multi-role fighter, which has been officially named the ‘KF-21 Boramae’ by the Republic of Korea Air Force (RoKAF).

The first KF-21 prototype – serial 001 – was unveiled to the public for the first time on April 9, during a ceremony at KAI’s facility in the South Korean city of Sacheon, which is located in the nation’s South Gyeongsang province. The event was also attended by South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who was joined by Indonesian Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto.

KF-21 Boramae [DAPA]
Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) officially unveiled the first KF-21 Boramae prototype - serial 001 - during a ceremony at its Sacheon facility in South Korea's South Gyeongsang province on April 9, 2021. DAPA

In a press release, South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA), explained why the RoKAF has named the domestically-developed fighter the KF-21 Boramae. The ‘KF’ represents ‘Korean Fighter, with ‘21’ connoting that the platform will “protect the Korean Peninsula in the 21st century.” It adds that Boramae is a “common name for the KF-X determined by the air force through a public offering [and] means a Korean-style fighter flying vigorously for the future self-defense.”

This prototype is the first of six that will be produced in support of the KF-21’s continuing development programme. KAI intends to conduct the platform’s first flight in 2022, following an extensive ground test campaign. Development of the Boramae is scheduled to conclude in 2026, which is also when the multi-role fighter is expected to enter serial production.

KF-21 Boramae [DAPA]
South Korea intends to acquire at least 120 examples of the new indigenously developed multi-role fighter for the Republic of Korea Air Force (RoKAF). The platform is expected to enter serial production from 2026. DAPA

Designed and developed by KAI under the Korean Fighter eXperiment (KF-X) programme, South Korea intends to purchase at least 120 examples of the KF-21 to replace the RoKAF’s ageing McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II and Northrop F-5E/F Tiger II fighter fleets. The KF-X project officially began in December 2015, although plans to develop the platform have been in place since March 2001.

At present, Indonesia is the only nation to have partnered with South Korea on the development programme, which has been dubbed the Indonesian Fighter eXperimental (IF-X) by the Asian nation. Despite this, Indonesia’s involvement in the programme has been problematic, given that the country has missed payments in recent years, after agreeing to fund 20% of the KF-X programme’s overall costs in July 2010.

KF-21 Boramae [DAPA]
KAI plans to complete the first flight of the KF-21 prototype in 2022, after the platform has completed an extensive ground test campaign. DAPA

Indonesia has been trying to renegotiate its position in the K/IF-X project since 2018 and has sought to extend its involvement in the programme through 2031. It is believed that these talks are still ongoing.

KAI intends to produce both single- and two-seat variants of the multi-role fighter. The KF-21 boasts a length of 55ft 5in, a wingspan of 36ft 8in and a height of 15ft 5in. The platform will be powered by a pair of GE Aviation F414 afterburning turbofan engines and is expected to reach speeds of up to 1,400mph, while having a ferry range of 1,550 nautical miles.

To read more about the KF-X programme, follow the link below.