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South Korea's KF-21 passes ‘combat assessment' to accelerate production

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. (Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA))

Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) KF-21 fighter aircraft has passed a “provisional combat suitability evaluation”, the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) said on 16 May.

DAPA said the milestone – achieved following two years of trials – is intended to accelerate aircraft manufacturing ahead of the initial KF-21 production phase in 2024.

KAI's first KF-21 prototype was rolled out in April 2021 and had its maiden flight in July 2022.

According to DAPA, the provisional combat suitability evaluation has assessed factors such as the KF-21's durability, structural integrity, manoeuvrability, and performance – including its speed, combat radius, and landing distance – in more than 200 ground and flight tests in the past two years.

The evaluation also assessed the performance of key systems onboard the aircraft including avionics, weapons, and its locally developed active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar.

“In addition, the evaluation will allow initial production to proceed,” said DAPA. It added that the evaluation process will enable industry to proceed with plans to develop production capability before the start of initial aircraft manufacturing in 2024.

DAPA said a follow-on combat suitability evaluation will be conducted following the initial manufacturing phase. DAPA plans to start mass producing the KF-21 by mid-2026.

The Republic of Korea Air Force (RoKAF) has previously cited a requirement to procure 120 KF-21 aircraft to replace its ageing fleets of F-4E Phantom and F-5E Tiger II fighter aircraft, which were inducted from the mid-1970s. The RoKAF seeks the induction of 40 KF-21s by 2028 and 80 units by 2032.

DAPA and KAI had not responded to Janes

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