On April 9, 2021, the official presentation of the fully completed flight model of the promising South Korean fighter KF-21 Boramae took place in Sacheon. The multifunctional fighter, which is endowed with some of the capabilities of fifth-generation fighters, was demonstrated at the headquarters of the South Korean aircraft corporation Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI).
The promising project was previously known as the KF-X. The first flight of a prototype of the new fighter, which the Koreans themselves refer to the 4 ++ generation (or as it is also called 4,5), should take place in early 2022. As part of the presentation, the official designation of the new KF-21 Boramae (Falcon) fighter was revealed.
The importance of the presentation of the novelty is confirmed by the fact that, in addition to the military and representatives of the aircraft concern, the President of the Republic of Korea Moon Jae In personally attended the presentation. Among the foreign dignitaries was Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto. Indonesia together with South Korea will be the first customers of the new aircraft. The Indonesian military expects to receive at least two dozen aircraft, the South Korean Air Force - about 140. At the same time, the aircraft will definitely have an export potential, which is also expected in Seoul.
What is known about the KF-X project
The program for creating its own multi-functional fighter appeared in South Korea around 2001. The project was quite ambitious, at the first stage it was even talked about the creation of a 5th generation combat aircraft. But the fighter was transformed into the "4 ++" model, as the Koreans themselves classify the fighter. The country's leading aircraft manufacturer Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) and the ADD - Agency for Defense Development of the South Korean Defense Ministry are responsible for the development of the new aircraft.
The practical implementation of the program for creating a new fighter began no earlier than 2010. In December 2015, KAI was awarded a contract for the full-scale development of the fighter, then known as the KF-X. The contract signed in 2015 provides for the construction of 6 experimental flight prototypes and two prototypes for ground testing. Since 2015, work on the creation of a new fighter has reached the highest degree of productivity.
At the same time, it is important to understand that the United States is providing direct support to South Korea in the process of creating its own multifunctional fighter. The leading American aircraft manufacturer Lockheed Martin redistributed more than 20 technologies to the Republic of Korea, which were used to create the fifth-generation F-35A multifunctional fighter-bomber.
At the same time, the Korean KF-X fighter itself, with its appearance and aerodynamic model, very much resembles another development, in the creation of which Lockheed Martin participated - the world's first serial fifth-generation fighter F-22 Raptor. The Korean fighter is slightly smaller. At the same time, we are still facing a single-seat twin-engine fighter with a spaced double keel and the possibility of placing weapons in the internal compartments of the aircraft.
The USA could not transfer part of the technologies to their allies. For example, the transmission of electronic warfare systems, AFAR radar, optoelectronic stations, was blocked by the American government. Seoul had to develop these technologies independently, and South Korean engineers succeeded in this.
The final technical appearance of the promising fighter was approved only in September 2019. After that, the construction process of the head prototype began at the aircraft plant in Sacheon, which was shown to the public on April 9, 2021.
The total cost of the entire program became the largest in the entire history South Korean military developments. The cost of the project to create its own multi-functional fighter is estimated at 18,6 trillion won (approximately $ 16,6 billion), of which 8,6 trillion won (approximately $ 7,7 billion) went directly to R&D. The rest of the money is planned to be spent on the construction of serial samples.
The main goal of the KF-21 Boramae fighter program was to create a 4 ++ generation machine, which can be built in a mass batch and surpass the KF-16 fighter (Korean version of the American F-16) in its combat capabilities. In the South Korean Air Force, the Falcon will have to replace the numerous, still in service, morally and physically obsolete fighters F-4 Phantom II and F-5 Freedom Fighter / Tiger II.
In part, the mass character can explain the reluctance to create a fifth-generation fighter so far. The car is not so expensive, which is very important for a serious renewal of the Air Force fleet. In total, the South Korean military expects to receive 40 aircraft by 2028. And by 2032, their fleet should be at least 120 aircraft.
The American F-35 has so far been chosen as the fifth generation fighter, of which it is planned to purchase at least 80 units, including 20 in the deck version for equipping the first Korean aircraft carrier. Purchase contracts were awarded in 2014 and 2020.
Revealed specifications of the KF-21 Boramae
The new South Korean fighter will have a fairly high combat potential. The machine will receive many of the capabilities of the fifth generation fighters. According to the Agency for Defense Development, the KF-21 Boramae (Falcon) is a 4 ++ or 4,5 generation multi-role fighter. Some elements of the stealth technology are also implemented in the model. Largely thanks to the technical assistance provided by the Americans.
The goal of the program for the creation of a new multi-functional fighter KF-21 Boramae was to create a combat vehicle that, in terms of stealth, would surpass the Eurofighter Typhoon and Dassault Rafale fighters. Most likely, these indicators will be achieved. At the same time, the South Korean fighter will be inferior in these parameters to the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II.
Initially, the Koreans hoped to create a fighter with internal compartments to accommodate weapons. But at some point it was decided to abandon this. This fact will definitely not play into the hands of the vehicle's stealth. It is known that the KF-21 Boramae fighter will receive 10 weapons suspension points. Including 4 semi-submerged suspension points under the fuselage for the placement of air-to-air missiles and six under the wing. The maximum payload is 7700 kg.
To combat aviation enemy fighter will be able to use guided missiles Meteor, IRIS-T and AIM-120. The latest versions of the American AIM-120 medium-range guided missile are capable of hitting targets at a distance of up to 180 kilometers. The main strike means of the aircraft for operations against ground targets should be the TAURUS KEPD missile with a declared range of more than 500 km.
So far, only a single-seat version of the fighter is known. At the same time, the appearance of a two-seater version in combat training is not excluded. The length of the KF-21 Boramae is 16,9 meters, the wingspan is 11,2 meters, and the height of the aircraft is 4,7 meters. The declared maximum take-off weight is 25,4 tons (this is about 10 tons less than the Su-35 and 5 tons less than the F-35A). The maximum flight speed should be Mach 1,9 (approximately 2300 km / h). The flight range is up to 2,9 thousand km.
The localization of the aircraft already reaches 60–65 percent. At the same time, in the future, South Korea plans to improve this indicator. Most of the aircraft's critical systems have already been developed and manufactured by the Republic of Korea. In particular, the radar with an active phased antenna array for the KF-21 Boramae was created by the Korean company Hanwha Systems.
The most foreign element of the aircraft at the moment is the power plant, represented by two American General Electric F414 engines with a thrust of 5900 kgf each (with afterburner 9900 kgf). Hanwha Techwin will be manufacturing engines in South Korea, which plans to increase the level of localization of components during their assembly.
Fighter KF-21 Boramae may complicate life for Russian exports
The Koreans from the very beginning counted on the export capabilities of the new fighter. The initial partner in the project is Indonesia, which was supposed to take on 20 percent of the development costs of the aircraft. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the amount received from Indonesia is far below the declared amount. Thus, according to South Korean media reports, Jakarta financed work at the level of 227,2 billion won with an agreement to invest 831,6 billion won.
For participation in the project, Indonesia expects to receive one copy of the finished fighter, as well as all the technical documentation for this project and the right to assemble the aircraft itself. In total, it is planned to produce up to 50 KF-21 Boramae fighters for the needs of the Indonesian Air Force. In the Indonesian Air Force, the aircraft may be designated F-33.
It is worth noting that the appearance of this fighter will definitely complicate the export of Russian 4 ++ generation aircraft to Indonesia, which currently has Russian, American and Korean combat aircraft in the Air Force. In particular, the Indonesian Air Force has Su-27SK and Su-27SKM fighters, as well as Su-30MK and Su-30MK2.
Perhaps there is no doubt that industrialized South Korea with the help of the United States will be able to create a fighter with good flight and combat characteristics. At the same time, the main complaint about the project throughout its entire existence is the development price. Critics of the project note that the new KF-21 Boramae may be twice as expensive as the top versions of the American F-16 fighter, which may negatively affect its export capabilities.
However, with a favorable development of events, wide localization of production and production in large batches, it may be possible to reduce the cost of the aircraft. In this case, the machine will definitely be able to compete with the Russian Su-30 and Su-35 fighters in the Asia-Pacific region. Especially if the purchase of Russian fighters is fraught with the threat of possible US sanctions.
In this regard, the story with Indonesia just looks like a clear example of the difficulties encountered with Russian arms exports to this country. Earlier in the summer of 2020, American and Indonesian publications wrote that a deal between Russia and Indonesia in February 2018 for the supply of 11 Su-35 fighters fell through due to pressure from Washington and the threat of American sanctions.