South Korea rolled out a prototype of its developmental jet fighter last week. An F-35 lookalike, the KF-21 is considered a Generation 4.5 fighter, as it does not incorporate internal weapons bays and so is not considered a Gen 5 full-on “stealth” fighter. Nicknamed the “Boramae” (“young hawk trained for hunting”), the KF-21 will carry air-to-air and air-to-surface ground-attack missiles, and possibly air-launched cruise missiles. Future plans might include internal weapons bays for fuller stealth capability.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in called the rollout ceremony “a historic milestone in the development of the [South Korean] aviation industry.” The cost of the development program, fronted by Korean Aircraft Industries (KAI), is estimated at $7.8 billion. Moon said he expects the program to generate 100,000 new jobs and add $5.2 billion to the national economy, even more if plans for exporting KF-21s come to fruition. “A new era of independent defense has begun,” he said at the rollout.
Though it is powered by a pair of U.S.-built GE F414 engines, 65 percent of the KF-21 is made up of domestic materials and components. KAI hopes to deliver 40 of the jets to its forces by 2028 and 120 by 2032. They are expected to replace South Korea’s F-16s and F-15s, as well as even older Gen 3 F-4 Phantoms and F-5 Tigers. South Korea also operates F-35s with a total of 40 on order from Lockheed-Martin.