The Republic of Korea Air Force’s new indigenously-developed KF-21 Boramae fighter performed its first flight at the Sacheon airfield on Tuesday, a little over a year after first being unveiled.
The first demonstrator was flown by the 52nd Test Evaluation Group after it was first spotted carrying out taxi trials earlier this month.
During the flight, the fighter somewhat curiously flew with mockup Meteor missiles on board, as confirmed by missile maker MBDA. The Boramae also became the first aircraft to fly with Martin Baker’s newest Mk18 ejection seat.
As was the case at the unveiling ceremony in April last year, the fighter flew with both South Korean and Indonesian flags on its fuselage. Indonesia is a 20 percent partner in the KF-21 development program.
Boramae is a “4.5-generation” fighter which will replace South Korea’s F-4 and F-5 jets under a program that is expected to cost close to $8 billion. The country’s goal was to put over 100 KF-21s in operation by 2032.
Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), which is assembling the first six flying prototypes, describes the Boramae as being close to a fifth-generation fighter jet with capabilities comparable to the advanced versions of the F-16.
The new fighter’s primary capability will be in the air-to-air role while subsequent development is expected to add the air-to-surface warfare role.
While the aircraft features a high degree of local content, like the indigenous Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, infrared search and track systems and an electronic warfare suite, it relies on foreign technology for some capabilities.
These include terrain following-terrain avoidance systems from Israel, or beyond visual range air-to-air missiles from France, among others. Overall, the program strives to achieve over 60 percent of local industry content.
After it completes flight testing sometime in 2026 and begins entering service, Boramae will fly alongside the fifth-generation F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. South Korea joined the Lockheed Martin-led program in 2014 and received its first F-35 in 2019. It currently has a total of 40 F-35s on order and will be buying an additional 20 airframes after the government signed off on the purchase earlier this year.