The KF-21, developed by Korea Aerospace Industries as part of a $6.6 billion project, is meant to replace an aging fleet of F-4 and F-5 fighters while being a cheaper alternative to the American F-35 Lightning II stealth jet. Photo courtesy of Defense Acquisition Program Administration
SEOUL, July 19 (UPI) -- South Korea on Tuesday completed the successful maiden voyage of its homegrown KF-21 fighter jet, officials announced, as the country looks to bolster its defense capabilities amid growing threats from neighboring North Korea.
The KAI KF-21 Boramae took off from an air force base in Sacheon, about 185 miles south of Seoul, and completed a flight of more than 30 minutes, the Defense Acquisition Program Administration said in a statement.
The jet, developed by Korea Aerospace Industries as part of a $6.67 billion project, is meant to replace an aging fleet of F-4 and F-5 fighters while being a cheaper alternative to the American F-35 Lightning II stealth jet.
The KF-21 program began in 2015 and has been met with a series of hurdles, including delayed payments from financing partner Indonesia and the refusal of Washington to share key technology patents.
Testing is expected to last for four years with some 2,000 sorties to fly before mass production begins. It's planned to enter service in 2026.
South Korea bills the Boramae as a 4.5th-generation fighter -- a less stealthy version of the 5th-generation F-35, which South Korea's air force also flies.
Seoul unveiled the prototype of the KF-21 in April 2021 and has announced plans to have at least 40 of the jets combat-ready by 2028 and 120 by 2032.
With the successful deployment of the KF-21, South Korea will become the eighth country in the world to domestically develop an advanced supersonic fighter, joining the United States, Russia, China, Japan, France, Sweden and a European consortium.
The Boramae can reach a top speed of Mach 1.8 and contains advanced technology, such as an active electronically scanned array radar system developed by local defense contractor Hanwha Systems.
While South Korea has boosted its military alliance with the United States under recently inaugurated President Yoon Suk-yeol, Seoul has also been working on bolstering its own defense industry in the face of mounting missile and nuclear threats from North Korea.
Earlier this year, South Korea's military test-fired its first home-produced solid-fuel rocket -- and last month the country joined the space race with the successful launch of its Nuri rocket.