South Korea to Start Domestic Production of KF-21 Fighter Amidst Partnership Uncertainties with Indonesia

Indonesia's delayed payments amounted to nearly 1 trillion won as of October 2023.
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  • 12:18 PM, January 10, 2024
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South Korea to Start Domestic Production of KF-21 Fighter Amidst Partnership Uncertainties with Indonesia
KF-21 Boramae fighter @KAI

South Korea is on the brink of a milestone in its pursuit of a domestically produced fighter, as the production of the KF-21 fighter jet is set to commence this year, with Indonesia's role in the program yet to be confirmed.

The Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) is actively working to finalize a contract with Korea Aerospace Industries Ltd. (KAI), the manufacturer of the KF-21, within the first half of this year. This crucial agreement is seen as the key to unlocking the doors for the large-scale production of the highly anticipated fighter jet.

The roots of this can be traced back to 2015 when South Korea, in collaboration with Indonesia, initiated a joint fighter jet development project. The goal is to deploy 120 KF-21s within the South Korean Air Force by 2032, effectively phasing out the aging F-4 and F-5 jets.

An official from DAPA told South Korean news agency Yonhap that all six KF-21 prototypes completed test flights successfully. These flights included a wide array of performance assessments, such as supersonic flights and arms separation tests, serving as a resounding endorsement of the aircraft's capabilities.

As the prototypes gear up for further testing in the upcoming year, one of them is scheduled to undergo a challenging round of extreme weather trials at the Agency for Defense Development's test center in Seosan, located 98 kilometers southwest of Seoul, extending through February.

However, the monumental joint development project, valued at 8.1 trillion won ($6.1 billion) through 2026, faces uncertainties due to Indonesia's delayed payments, amounting to nearly 1 trillion won as of October last year.

In an effort to address the financial concerns, Seoul has committed to covering approximately 60% of the project's expenses, with Jakarta and KAI jointly responsible for the remaining 40%.

Negotiations are currently underway to resolve the payment issues, with expectations for Jakarta to submit an updated payment plan for the project.

Dassault Aviation, a French company, recently confirmed that the Indonesian government has given its approval for the third and final batch of its planned acquisition of 42 Dassault Rafale fighter jets. Nevertheless, Jakarta may be grappling with challenges in securing funds for the third Rafale tranche, potentially facing competition with other arms programs for resources. The confirmation of the third tranche coincides with a period when the Indonesian government is under scrutiny for its earlier decision to acquire 12 second-hand Mirage 2000-5 fighters from Qatar, costing nearly $800 million.

In addition to the Rafale acquisition, reports indicate that the Indonesian Air Force has shown interest in procuring 24 Boeing F-15EX fighters and related weaponry, with an estimated total value of around $10 billion.

As South Korea prepares for the commencement of KF-21 production, the successful realization of this indigenous fighter jet represents not only a technological triumph but also a significant stride towards bolstering the country's defense capabilities on the global stage.

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