The KF-21 Boramae is Just the Fighter Jet South Korea Needs

March 28, 2024 Topic: Security Region: Asia Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: KF-21 BoramaeKF-21South KoreaMilitaryDefenseROKNorth Korea

The KF-21 Boramae is Just the Fighter Jet South Korea Needs

South Korea's strategic initiative to enhance its defense capabilities amid escalating threats from North Korea has led to the development of the KF-21 Boramae, a significant step towards military self-sufficiency.

Summary: South Korea's strategic initiative to enhance its defense capabilities amid escalating threats from North Korea has led to the development of the KF-21 Boramae, a significant step towards military self-sufficiency. This fourth-generation-plus fighter jet, embodying elements of fifth-generation technology on a more cost-effective platform, aims to modernize the South Korean Air Force without the steep expenses associated with pure stealth aircraft like the F-35. Jointly developed with Indonesia and mirroring design aspects from Lockheed Martin's F-22 and F-35, the KF-21 is tailored to South Korea's needs, offering a balance of advanced capabilities and affordability. Despite financial adjustments resulting in a reduced order, the KF-21 is strategically positioned to strengthen South Korea's air defense, providing a domestically produced, versatile fighter jet capable of challenging North Korea's military advancements.

KF-21 Boramae: South Korea's Leap Towards Aerospace Independence

South Korea is in an unenviable strategic position. It exists on the bottom of a peninsula in which its northern neighbor is an insane, kleptocratic regime that has spent the last 60 years vowing to conquer South Korea. That is, until recently, when that cult of personality regime in North Korea officially abandoned their quest to absorb South Korea in favor of simply annihilating their southern, democratic neighbors. 

A close military alliance between the United States and South Korea has helped maintain South Korea’s sovereignty. Even still, the South Korean position is tenuous at best, what with America being largely distracted and increasingly isolated on the world stage by its rivals. 

South Korean leaders have begun looking for technologies and tactics that would keep their military in a fight longer without possibly relying on the Americans for backup. One area that South Korea has sought to become more independent of America is in the domain of aerospace. 

Specifically, their new KF-21 Boramae fighter. 

The Specs of the KF-21

A fourth-generation-plus warplane, the bird incorporates elements of the expensive fifth-generation on a fourth-generation platform. This will help to keep costs down for the South Koreans. While the plane is not technically stealth, its radar cross-section is small and low enough that it is stealth-like.

The plane was developed jointly with Indonesia, which is increasingly seeking more military capabilities as the Southeast Asian region heats up with geopolitical competition, primarily between the United States and China. Other countries, such as Poland, have expressed interest in purchasing a block of the KF-21 fighters when they are ready. Some have criticized the KF-21 as a cheap knockoff of the American F-35 Lightning II fighter. It certainly appears to be a cheaper form of the F-35.

But that’s what South Korea needs. After all, their current fleet of American F-4 planes and other third-generation systems is in dire need of updating.

Lockheed Martin, the makers of both the F-22A Raptor and the F-35 Lightning II, assisted South Korea in the design of this fourth-generation-plus warplane. Leading many to comment on the striking similarities between the two American planes and the KF-21 Boramae. 

While stealthier than older fourth-generation warplanes, the reason that the KF-21 is not considered to be a stealth plane is because of the fact that there are no internal weapons bays. Instead, the plane’s ordnance package is attached to nine or ten (depending on the model) external hardpoints. Thus, radars will be able to determine if the KF-21 is a warplane or not. This will be a multi-role fighter. What’s more, most of its communication, combat, and radar components had to be built within South Korea.

South Korea Must Be Able to Stand Alone

Part of the reasoning behind the development of this plane was to make South Korea more self-sufficient, especially as it stares down an increasingly belligerent—possibly nuclear-armed—North Korea. 

Because of this, the cost of the plane, which was already high since it first went into production in 2015, has exploded. Therefore, the South Korean government has had to drastically reduce its previous order of the plane. The original plan was to make the Boramae the “backbone” of the South Korean Air Force by 2026, the year that the first batch of KF-21 planes would be deployed by Seoul. The initial order was for 40, with plans to have as many 120 KF-21 units in South Korea’s air fleet by the 2030s. 

That initial order was halved by Seoul. 

Only 20 Boramaes will be coming into the South Korean Air Force in 2026. Another 20 will come a year later. Regardless of these budgetary constraints, the KF-21 Borramae is the perfect plane for South Korea. It is more advanced than what their North Korean foes currently possess

The KF-21 will carry an impressive array of advanced weapons wedded to a fast engine as well as a stealth-like capability that will make it more difficult to shoot down than other fourth-generation warplanes. That it is indigenously built means that the planes can be repaired and rebuilt with relative ease.

This Plane Can Beat North Korea

Even though the KF-21 is an expensive plane it is nowhere near as expensive as either the new F-15EX Eagle II or the F-35 Lightning II. This means that South Korea will have more KF-21 Boramaes available to their forces when, and if, the shooting with North Korea starts than if they relied on American exports. 

If North Korea decides to go postal on South Korea, the South Koreans will need every advantage they can get—especially in the opening phases of such a war. Better to have an indigenously built system than a foreign one. 

The F-21 Boramae is the perfect fighter for South Korea.

About the Author 

Brandon J. Weichert, a National Interest national security analyst, is a former Congressional staffer and geopolitical analyst who is a contributor at The Washington Times, as well as at American Greatness and the Asia Times. He is the author of Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower (Republic Book Publishers), Biohacked: China’s Race to Control Life, and The Shadow War: Iran’s Quest for Supremacy. Weichert can be followed via Twitter @WeTheBrandon.

Image: Creative Commons.