On Jan. 10, South Korean Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) officially stated that by successfully completing the initial test evaluation of the KF-21 prototypes, it will sign the first mass production mission with Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) by 2024, and start production of the KF-21 Block 1 and mass production for deployment in due course.
DAPA said that KF-21 prototypes have laid the foundation for the launch of mass production by got provisional combat suitability determination after successfully completing the initial test evaluation through various tests such as first flight, supersonic flight, and air-to-air missile tests from 2023.
The DAPA also said that this year’s plan will continue flight tests in 2024 to speed up the development of the KF-21 system, with a wider range of tests also in program. Currently, the Agency for Defense Development’s Haemi Aerospace Center is carrying out aircraft environment tests that verify normal operation in extreme environments such as low temperature, high temperature, rainfall, and freezing, and will run until February.
However, the initial mass production of KF-21 is still up in the air. According to the original KF-X (Korean Fighter eXperimental) project’s plan, it was to complete 40 units of air superiority version Block I from 2024 to 2028, and then 80 units of multi-role version Block II that expands AESA radar update and arming capabilities, by 2032.
But, in October 2023, the KIDA (Korea Institute for Defense Analytics) submitted a program feasibility study report on KF-21 initial production to the government, saying, We propose to reduce mass production from 40s to 20s because the technical completion of KF-21 is not yet mature and the performance verification of air-to-air and air-to-ground capabilities has not yet been completed.
The report was submitted the National Assembly and review of government budget in November, which became a political and security debate, but the report was negatively evaluated due to the economic effects of production costs and the urgent need to replace the ROKAF’s F-4 Phantom II and KF-5 fighter jets.
First of all, the Korean National Assembly decided on a budget of 238.7 billion won ($181.7 million), which assumed the production of 40 KF-21 Block I, and DAPA concluded earlier this year that it would determine the initial mass production of KF-21 in consideration of program reports, budget and government policies.