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South Korea starts initial production of KF-21 fighter

The second KAI KF-21 prototype launches a mid-range air-to-air Meteor missile during the aircraft's armament trials in late March 2023. (DAPA)

South Korea's Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) has announced the start of the initial manufacturing phase of the country's KF-21 ‘Boramae' multirole fighter aircraft.

DAPA said an event marking the assembly of the first KF-21 production model was held at manufacturer Korea Aerospace Industries' (KAI's) Sacheon facility on 10 July.

DAPA said that KAI also unveiled at the event a range of automated manufacturing equipment that will support KF-21 production.

“The automation process will increase the accuracy of the assembly process, maximise production efficiency, and contribute to shortening the production period,” DAPA said. It added that automated manufacturing will enhance KAI's efforts to export the aircraft.

The start of the initial production phase follows a contract awarded to KAI in June worth KRW1.96 trillion (USD1.4 billion) to manufacture an initial batch of 20 KF-21s. This contract runs through August 2027.

DAPA has said it expects to award a contract for a second batch of 20 KF-21s in 2025. DAPA said on 10 July that the first batch of aircraft is scheduled to be delivered to the Republic of Korea Air Force (RoKAF) from late 2026.

Following a successful initial production, mass production of the aircraft is scheduled to start in 2026. The mass production phase is scheduled to run through 2032. The RoKAF has a requirement for a total of 120 KF-21s, with 40 to be delivered between 2026 and 2028, and 80 more by 2032.

DAPA has previously said that production of the aircraft, while led by KAI, will be supported by about 700 local companies.

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