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    South Korea’s KF-21 Jet: A New Era of Aerial Superiority in Asia

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    The Republic of Korea Air Force (RoKAF) has made a historic move by retiring its fleet of F-4E Phantom II fighter jets, signaling the end of an era.

    The Phantom IIs, a significant part of South Korea’s defense since the mid-1960s, were officially stood down in a ceremony at Suwon Air Base on June 7th. This momentous occasion comes after 55 years of service and the operation of approximately 220 Phantoms in different variants.

    The F-4 Phantom II, iconic for its role in the Vietnam War and recognized for its multi-role capabilities, has seen continuous use across various air forces globally. However, only a handful of countries remain operating the aircraft, emphasizing the Phantoms’ progressive phase-out from modern air combat fleets.

    U.S. Air Force Gen. Ronald E. Keys, the commander of Air Combat Command, and Lt. Col. J.D. Lee fly an F-4 Phantom II aircraft over the Atlantic Ocean Sept. 28, 2007, during the final flight of Key’s military career. Keys is scheduled to retire after 40 years of military service. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Samuel Rogers) (Released)

    Marking a transition into the future of aerial warfare, the RoKAF’s last Phantom unit, the 153rd Fighter Squadron, conducted a farewell flight with four aircraft exhibiting commemorative paint schemes, including a Vietnam War-era camouflage.

    Significantly, the farewell flight was partly escorted by two KF-21 Boramae multirole combat aircraft, symbolizing the ushering in of a new era.

    The sixth prototype of the KF-21 Boramae” by pepsi2024 is licensed under CC BY 3.0

    The KF-21 Boramae, developed indigenously by Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), is the direct replacement for the Phantoms and represents South Korea’s ambitions in modernizing its military capabilities. The DAPA has announced that the KF-21 has passed a “provisional combat suitability evaluation,” a milestone allowing the initiation of production plans.

    The third prototype of the KF-21 Boramae on display at the 2022 Sacheon Airshow” by dooyeol Choi Music travel 음악 듣기용 is licensed under CC BY 3.0

    The new fighter jet is classified as a ‘4.5-generation’ platform, designed to meet the challenges of contemporary air combat and eventually replace the ageing F-4D/E Phantom II and F-5E/F Tiger II aircraft.

    KF21ADEX-20.10.2023 1” by AnShmat is licensed under CC BY 4.0

    After extensive ground-based and flight trials, including over 200 test events assessing the KF-21’s durability, structural integrity, and performance, the aircraft’s manufacturing phase is set to begin in 2024. The rigorous evaluation also included testing of its avionics, weapons, and the advanced AESA radar.

    The side view of the KF-21 Boramae” by dooyeol Choi Music travel 음악 듣기용 is licensed under CC BY 3.0

    Recent developments include successful weapons release and firing trials, which incorporated the test firing of an AIM-2000 IRIS-T air-to-air missile, as well as the onboard 20mm rotary cannon.

    The KF-21’s development has been marked by steady progress, with the four prototypes conducting more than 150 flight tests since its first flight in July 2022. RoKAF plans to acquire an initial batch of 40 KF-21s by 2028 and an additional 80 aircraft by 2032. This new generation aircraft is poised to not only enhance national defense capabilities but also to make a significant impact on regional air power dynamics.

    The strategic importance of the KF-21 extends beyond national defense, potentially altering military balances in Asia. Analysts suggest that the KF-21 could cause concern for competitors, given its advanced capabilities and the potential to enhance the air force of regional competitors.

    With Seoul’s announcement to produce up to 40 units of its KF-21 between 2024 and 2028, the future of aerial superiority in Asia appears to be tilting in South Korea’s favor.

    The forthcoming mass production and expected upgrades of the KF-21, including advances to a 5.5-generation fighter jet, demonstrate South Korea’s commitment to maintaining a competitive edge. The KF-21, while currently boasting limited stealth capabilities, plans for upgrades that could rival those of fifth-generation fighters. The aircraft’s network operation capabilities, including the potential for AI-driven manned-unmanned teaming operations, align it with the future of modern warfare.

    Countries like the Philippines and Poland have already shown interest in the KF-21, with Indonesia set to receive 50 units as a joint development partner.

    As the Phantom fleet retires, the KF-21 Boramae represents South Korea’s leap into the next chapter of defense technology, enhancing its military prowess and positioning itself as a key player in the future of aerial combat and defense exports. The skies of Asia are witnessing a transformation, as South Korea forges ahead with its cutting-edge aviation technology, ready to take on the challenges of the 21st century.

    Relevant articles:
    South Korea retires Phantom, readies Boramae for production, Asian Military Review
    South Korea accelerates KF, Asian Military Review
    4 Phantom fighters launch missiles for the last time before retirement, Aeroflap
    South Korea is zooming ahead with the mass production of its KF-21 fighter jet, and China won’t be happy, South China

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