SEOUL — Korea Aerospace Industries and the country’s Air Force on Tuesday confirmed the first successful test flight of Seoul’s indigenous 4.5th-generation fighter jet, the KF-21 “Boramae.”

The test puts South Korea on the map as the world’s eighth country to have developed supersonic fighter jets, 20 years after former president Daejung Kim ordered the development of a Korean fighter.

The Air Force and KAI previously conducted a successful ground-based engine thrust test late last month.

The KF-21, armed with 4 METEOR air-to-air missiles and piloted by Maj. Junhyeon Ahn of the Air Foce Test and Evaluation Unit, took off from an Air Force base near KAI’s headquarters in Sacheon, South Gyeongsang Province, at 3:40 p.m. local time. The fighter jet flew at a speed of 400 km/h (200 knots) for 30 minutes to check basic functions of the jet’s body, landing safely at 4:13 p.m.

KAI plans to conduct around 2000 test flights with six prototypes until June 2026, followed by mass production in the same year. The Korean Air Force considers deploying 120 KF-21s by 2032.

The aircraft type would be verified as a potentially combat-capable asset at the end of 2023, and additional ordnance tests for KF-21 Block-2 will be conducted in 2026.

Forty Block-1 jets are envisioned to be capable of air-to-air battles while 80 Block-2 jets that will be deployed as of 2028 are meant to also perform air-to-ground engagements.

The two key components, an electronic radar and an infrared target tracker, were developed by Hanwha Systems with local technology and supplied to the first KF-21 prototype. A radio frequency jammer and integrated electronic warfare suite were supplied by LIG Nex1.

The KF-21 is expected to be armed with South Korea-developed ALCM (air-launched cruise missile) and 10 other air-to-ground weapons, including METEOR air-to-air missiles for the first time in Asia.

The cruise missiles will give the fighter a precision strike capability over long distances, outside an enemy’s air defense or interception system. The Korean military also plans to place hypersonic missiles, currently in development, on the KF-21.

Daehan Lee was a South Korea correspondent for Defense News. He had previously worked at the U.S. and Belgian embassies in Seoul, for the People Power Party, and for election camps. He also served as a translator for the South Korean Navy. His interests include Asia-Pacific security, defense acquisition, South Korean politics and foreign policy.

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