Is South Korea's New KF-21 Boramae a Successful Joint Strike Fighter?

Only XNUMX years after carrying out the first risk analysis, and less than two years after starting its assembly, the first prototype of the South Korean KF-21 fighter aircraft program, previously designated the KFX program and officially named Bomamae (falcon) during this ceremony, was officially presented this Friday in Seoul in front of a delegation of more than 250 South Korean and foreign officials. It must be said that everything in this program is exceptional, so far at least. While only 30 years ago, the South Korean aviation industry was still barely in its infancy, it achieved the feat of developing in just over 10 years, and for less than $ 8 billion. , a first device for the less promising, meeting many operational and budgetary expectations in Asia and in the world. Stealthy, maneuverable, fast and equipped with advanced on-board electronics, the KF-21, whose unit price should be around $ 65 million, i.e. the price in fly-away condition of an F16V Viper, does it not represent what should have been the Joint Strike Fighter program, and its avatar, the F35A?

I have to say that the KF-21 has something to seduce. Almost 17 meters long with a wingspan of 11m20, the aircraft is imposing, exceeding the 2 meters of the Rafale or the F15 by 16 meters, without being excessively heavy, with an empty mass of 11 tons, 1 ton more than the Rafale, and a maximum takeoff weight of 25 tonnes, which is as much as the French aircraft. It is powered by two General Electric F414-400 engines, the same one that equips the Super Hornet, the Gripen and the Indian Tejas, giving it a dry thrust of nearly 11 tons, and close to 20 tons with the afterburner, and a most comfortable power-to-weight ratio . This configuration will allow it to reach a maximum speed of 1400 knots, or Mach 1,81 according to the data provided by DAPA, the South Korean armaments agency. The autonomy, the ceiling and the speed of ascent remain, as for them, still to be established precisely. Indeed, contrary to a widely held habit in the military aeronautics field, the South Korean manufacturer KAI, no more than the authorities of the country and the DAPA, do not overstep the operational capacities of their last born. It would even be the opposite, because despite a stealth design, and a probable ability to super-cruise, and advanced on-board electronics, the aircraft is presented as belonging to generation 4,5, XNUMX, or substantially the same as that to which the communicators of Lockheed Martin were kind enough to classify the Rafale, the Typhoon or the Gripen.

It only took 10 years and € 8 billion to design and assemble the first prototype of the KF21 Boramae, which in itself represents a remarkable performance for a device of this ambition.

The on-board electronics are undoubtedly a strong point of the KF-21, and a remarkable feat of the South Korean aviation industry. Indeed, the United States authorized Lockheed-Martin and General Electric to accompany KAI and the DAPA in this program, but vetoed 4 critical technologies, namely the AESA radar, the IRST infrared detection system, the war suite. self-defense electronics, and the infrared sighting pod. The South Korean industry therefore had to develop its own 4 technologies which equip the KF21 well, and this in a remarkably short time. As such, the aircraft is now nearly 63% designed by South Korean industry, including the aircraft and all systems, which represents 12.000 jobs in more than 550 companies, 16 Universities and 11 laboratories, marking the overall effort generated by this program in the country. Once industrial production begins, 10.000 other jobs will be created according to the South Korean authorities, while efforts will be made to reduce the technological dependence of the program, especially in the field of thrusters.

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