The KF-21 stealth fighter program represents South Korea’s great ambition, because it has relatively little experience in the field of military aviation.
Following the success of the F/A-50 fourth-generation light fighter program, which has been widely exported and proven to be highly effective in Iraq and the Philippines, Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) developed a fifth generation fighter named KF-21 Boramae. The KF-21 stealth fighter program represents South Korea’s great ambition, because it has relatively little experience in the field of military aviation. Currently, only three countries in the world, the US, China and Russia, can produce their own 5th generation fighters.
The KF-21 is classified as a 5th generation twin-engine jet fighter. There are also reviews that it is only a 4.5 generation fighter, because it is not really stealthy. The KF-21 is built with low maintenance and usage costs in mind, at a reasonable price. The first fighters will be equipped in large numbers for the Republic of Korea Air Force. The KF-21 is expected to be the key to reaching Southeast Asian customers, who have previously appreciated the F/A-50 light fighter.
The Korean Air Force is one of the largest in the world today. Korean fighters are mostly purchased from the US, and are slowly approaching the end of their life. Therefore, the KF-21 fighter has the advantage that it will be mass-produced, first to replace the number of third-generation fighters such as F-4E or F-5E (about 235 units) in the Korean Air Force.
Such a large number will allow the production scale of the KF-21 to surpass all other fifth-generation fighter programs in the world, behind only the US F-35 and China’s J-20. However, the cost and operating costs of the KF-21 will be higher than that of the 3rd generation fighter, especially compared to the F-5E. This will mean that the number of squadrons will be reduced, or will be significantly smaller in size.
The KF-21 is also expected to be compatible with US missiles, meaning they can use the AIM-260 long-range air-to-air missile, which is expected to enter service near the end of the decade. The AIM-260 is faster, more versatile, longer range, more reliable and cheaper than the Meteor.
The Korean defense industry has extensive experience with high-performance and cost-effective weapon systems such as the K9 Thunder gun, the K2 Black Panther main battle tank, the F/A-50 fighter jet, or Hyunmoo-3 cruise missile. The KF-21 is expected to be one of the most successful fifth-generation fighter programs in the world.