Warplanes: South Korea Joins The Club

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August 4, 2022: South Korea has developed its first jet fighter, the KF-21. Also called Borame (“Fighting Hawk ''), the fighter made its first flight on July 19th and expects to enter service by 2026. Developing the KF-21 cost at least $8 billion. The South Korean air force wants to buy 120 of them. The first 40 will be Block 1 while the other 80 will be Block 2.

There is also an export customer, Indonesia, which is contributing 20 percent of the development funds. The South Korea government is supplying 60 percent of development costs and the KF-21 manufacturer the remaining 20 percent. Indonesia and the South Korea aircraft manufacturer expect to receive contracts for production of KF-21 components and future upgrades. Indonesia will eventually assemble KF-21s in Indonesia from components supplied by South Korea and Indonesia.

The initial (Block 1) KF-21 is a twin-engine 24.5-ton air superiority fighter. F414 engines are supplied by U.S. firm GE. This engine is used by the U.S. Navy F-18E fighter and the South Korean TA-50 trained aircraft, which can also be used as an attack aircraft. A new model of the Swedish Gripen fighter also uses F414. These engines are also built in South Korea as a joint venture with GE. The South Korea partner helped design the version of the F414 needed for the TA-50 and KF-21.

The block 2 KF-21 will be equipped as a fighter-bomber, with sensors and electronics similar to what the F-35 uses to enable the pilot to handle ground attack operations without a second crew member who is the weapons officer. The two seat F-15E fighter bomber is the nest example of this type of attack aircraft and South Korea already had 40 F-15K aircraft which are F-15Es customized for South Korea needs. These will be complemented by and eventually replaced (after 2040) by the block 2 KF-21.

South Korea has already developed world-class armored vehicles, warships and support aircraft, including helicopters. Neighboring countries, like Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan and Australia are also developing manufacturing capabilities for combat vehicles, ships and aircraft. Japan was the first country in the region to develop the capability to build modern weapons but until recently the Japanese post-World War II constitution banned export of weapons. That was recently changed and now Japan can build for export. Japan has to catch-up with South Korea which always produced these new weapons with the intention of competing in export markets.

 


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