South Korea's homegrown KF-21 Boramae fighter jet flies for the first time

The nation joins the ranks of countries with advanced supersonic fighters.
Loukia Papadopoulos

Few nations can say they have developed and flown an advanced supersonic fighter. As of this week, South Korea has joined that elite group. On Tuesday, the country undertook a 33-minute flight of its homegrown KF-21 Boramae fighter jet for the first time, the nation's Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) told CNN.

A successful first flight

The pilot, Maj. Ahn Jun-hyun, reported that "everything went smoothly so I flew the whole flight route as planned."  DAPA equipped the jet with four mock-up Meteor air-to-air missiles and an infrared search-and-track system for the test flight.

Despite the added weight, the aircraft managed to reach speeds of roughly 250 miles per hour (400 kph). South Korean President Yoon Seok Yeol called the event "a splendid achievement in national defense independence."

South Korea undertook the program in cooperation with Indonesia, with Seoul holding 80 percent of the shares.

DAPA says the KF-21 is a "4.5-generation" fighter jet — rather than a true fifth-generation jet — because it lacks key features, including an internal weapons bay. Those missing features could confer an advantage, however. The KF-21 may be able to fly higher and faster than the most advanced fifth-generation fighter in the U.S. fleet, the F-35.

"The KF-21 is the first fighter aircraft made with domestic technology, and it indicates that South Korea is now able to build fighter aircraft on its own. It will also be a stepping stone to develop better fighter aircraft and operate locally developed arms," DAPA said last year.

South Korea's homegrown KF-21 Boramae fighter jet flies for the first time
Source: KF-21 A/Wikipedia

The new jet is one of six KF-21 prototypes engineered by Korea Aerospace Industries. Together, the six jets will undertake more than 2,000 test flights between this week and 2026.

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After these trials are completed, mass production and deployment will begin. The South Korean air force anticipates the delivery of 120 jets by 2030. These single and two-seat versions will be equipped with air-to-air missiles, and air-to-surface missiles, and cruise missiles that can be launched during flight.  

Complementing already existing aircraft

However, only 65 percent of the KF-21's parts will be made in South Korea making the milestone even more impressive. 

Currently, the United States, Russia, China, Japan, France, Sweden as well as European nations such as the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy and Spain are the only other nations in the world to have engineered supersonic jets, with only the US and China having deployed domestic-made fifth-generation fighter jets.

Experts are now saying that the new South Korean jets will complement the nation's already existing aircraft.

"The (South Korean) air force will then have a mix of F-35s for strike operations and KF-21s for air defense operations. This concept makes good use of the F-35, which is optimized for attacking ground targets whereas the KF-21 has been optimized for air-to-air missions," Peter Layton, a fellow at the Griffith Asia Institute in Australia, told CNN.

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