The prototype jet made a 33-minute round-trip flight from the air force base in the southern city of Sacheon, South Korea’s Defense Procurement Program Authority (DAPA) said.
Pilot, Major. Ahn Joon Hyun admitted in advance that he was nervous, but said that after takeoff, “everything went smoothly, so I flew the entire flight route as planned.”
The aircraft is the first of six KF-21 prototypes produced by Korea Aerospace Industries, which will conduct more than 2,000 test flights until 2026, when mass production and deployment begin, DAPA reported.
The South Korean Air Force is expected to deliver 120 aircraft by 2030.
Once operational, the KF-21 is expected to be armed with a range of air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles and possibly even air-launched cruise missiles. Twin-engine fighters will be produced in single and double versions.
On Tuesday, the aircraft was equipped with four mock Meteor air-to-air missiles and an infrared search and tracking system and reached speeds of about 400 kilometers per hour (250 mph).
KF-21 is a joint project between South Korea and Indonesia, in which Seoul owns 80% of the shares.
Although only 65% of the KF-21 parts are made in South Korea, its first flight is still a significant achievement for a country with no long history of aircraft production.
The only other countries that have developed and used an advanced supersonic jet fighter are the US, Russia, China, Japan, France, Sweden and a European consortium of the UK, Germany, Italy and Spain.
Of these, only the United States and China have deployed domestically produced fifth-generation fighter jets — aircraft equipped with stealth technology, radar jamming capabilities and avionics that integrate airborne and remote data to give pilots a real-time picture of their performance. to the NATO Air Force Joint Competence Center.
While DAPA calls the KF-21 a 4.5-generation fighter because it lacks features such as an internal weapon bay that would make it more stealthy, analysts say it can fly higher and faster than the latest fifth American made aircraft. F-35 generation fighter.
“The KF-21 is the first fighter aircraft built using domestic technology, and this indicates that South Korea can now build fighters on its own. “DAPA said last year.
Peter Layton, a research fellow at the Asian Griffith Institute in Australia, called the KF-21 flight an “impressive” milestone on Wednesday.
“The program has greatly expanded South Korea’s aerospace capabilities, especially in the areas of design, manufacturing of airframe components and avionics,” said Layton, a former Royal Australian Air Force officer.
The KF-21 is expected to replace the South Korean F-4 and F-5 fighters, third-generation jet aircraft developed in the US in the 1960s.
As production increases, it could also replace South Korea’s fourth-generation F-16s and F-15Ks, Abraham Ait, editor-in-chief of Military Watch Magazine, wrote in 2020 in The Diplomat.
South Korea also uses F-35 stealth fighters.
Layton said that when the KF-21 enters service, it will improve South Korea’s defensive and offensive air capabilities.
“Given the deplorable state of the aging North Korean Air Force fighters, the KF-21 is vastly superior,” he said.
Layton said South Korean F-35s have superior stealth capabilities compared to KF-21s and better penetrate enemy radars.
“Then the (South Korean) Air Force would 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 ground attack, while the KF-21 has been optimized for air-to-air missions, he said.
The KF-21 has significant export potential as it is expected to be cheaper than the F-35s that the US sells to foreign military forces.
Thailand, the Philippines and perhaps even Iraq “could be the fighter’s top customers,” Ait writes, adding that each of these countries operate the same aircraft type that the KF-21 was designed to replace. These countries are also customers of South Korea’s own FA-50 light attack fighter.
President Yong said after the test on Tuesday that “the turning point has arrived for expanding our defense industry’s exports.”