KF-21: South Korea unveils prototype of first domestically developed supersonic fighter jet

South Korea unveiled a prototype of its first domestically developed fighter jet.

The next-generation aircraft has been developed by Korea Aerospace Industries Limited (KAI). It is designed to be a cheaper, less stealthy alternative to the USA’s F-35. South Korea heavily relies on US-built F-35 fighter jets.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in hailed the KF-X to be the future backbone of the South Korean air force. He also said that this was a step towards South Korea’s greater military independence.

With the unveiling of the KF-21 fighter jet, South Korea has joined an elite group of countries that have domestically developed supersonic fighter jets.

The display at the KAI headquarters in the southern city of Sacheon was attended by Moon and representatives from Indonesia, which partnered with South Korea on the project.

“A new era of independent defence has begun,” Moon said.

Moon has sought to boost the defence industry, both as a way to spur economic growth through exports, as well as to chart a more independent path in a country that has relied heavily on its major ally, the United States.

South Korea continues to buy large amounts of military hardware from the United States but under Moon the military announced its “acquisition policy will change to centre around domestic R&D rather than overseas purchases”.

KAI plans to carry out ground testing this year, with first flights expected in 2022. The plan is to eventually replace most of South Korea’s older, U.S.-made F-4 and F-5 fighter jets, and produce more for export.

Moon said South Korea would have at least 40 of the new jets combat-ready by 2028, and 120 by 2032.

When deployed by the South Korean military, the aircraft will be known as the KF-21 Boramae.

South Korea and Indonesia agreed in 2014 to jointly develop the fighter in a project worth $6.3 billion, with Indonesia paying 20% of the cost. But in 2018, Jakarta sought to renegotiate to take pressure off its foreign reserves, later seeking to barter for its share of the cost.