Is South Korea’s KF-21 Boramae Fighter Jet More Than Just a Cheap F-35 Copy?

The KF-21 Boramae is the first homegrown fighter jet of the South Korean Air Force – but why does it look so similar to the F-35 Lightning II?
KF-21 Boramae

South Korea has created its new fighter aircraft to reduce its dependence on American technology, especially after acquiring a large batch of F-35 aircraft.

So, how good is this KF-21? Can it be compared to an F-35? Will it compete with Chinese fighter jets?

What’s the KF-21 Boramae fighter jet?

KF-21 Boramae Prototype
KF-21 Boramae Prototype by KF-21A. Licensed under CC by 4.0

The KF-21 Boramae is a supersonic multirole combat aircraft developed by South Korea and Indonesia, and it just made its maiden flight on 19 July 2022.

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But, the KF-21 Boramae fighter jet is scheduled to be delivered to the Indonesian and Korean Air Force in 2025.

The KF-21 is equipped with an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar and an Infrared Search and Track (IRST) system, and it can carry precision-guided bombs, air-to-air missiles, and air-to-surface missiles.

South Korea is getting stronger as a deterrent to the Chinese increasing power

FA-50 Republic of Korea Air Force
FA-50 Republic of Korea Air Force by Republic of Korea Armed Forces. Licensed under CC by 2.0

As the Chinese military continues to grow in strength, so does the need for South Korea to maintain a strong deterrent force. Adding 40 F-35 Lightning II fighter jets to the Republic of Korea Air Force ensures it can defend itself against potential threats.

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And the Boramae is also part of South Korea’s ongoing efforts to modernize its military and build a “balancer” force that can counter China’s growing regional power.

It is expected that South Korea will continue to develop new aircraft, including the latest technologies, to further progress in the military industry.

… And of course, South Korea is technically at war with North Korea

The two states are still technically in a state of war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. So, the F-35As and KF-21 could be used in a future conflict.

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In the last decades, there have been numerous skirmishes and standoffs between the two countries. 

Most recently, tensions have been escalating due to North Korea’s nuclear program. Though it’s unlikely that full-scale war will break out again, it is clear that the conflict between North and South Korea is far from over.

KF-21 Boramae fighter jet vs F-35 Lightning II

F-35A Lightning II
F-35A Lightning II by publicdomainpictures.net. Public Domain

The KF-21 Boramae and the F-35 Lightning are two of the most advanced and powerful jets in the world… So, how do they compare?

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The KF-21 is a newer model jet, and it is designed for air superiority. It is armed with air-to-air missiles and can reach speeds up to Mach 1.81. 

The F-35, on the other hand, is a multi-role fighter jet that can be used for air-to-air and air-to-ground combat. It has a slightly lower top speed than the KF-21, but it is considered to be more maneuverable.

Both jets are incredibly advanced and would be a valuable asset to any country’s air force.

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The F-35 has much more advanced technology, but a fourth-generation fighter like the Boramae can also perform most of the military strike activities.

Its only weakness would be that it could be detected by enemy radar.

KF-21 Boramae specifications

KFX-2017 Seoul ADEX Miniature
KFX-2017 Seoul ADEX Miniature by Alvis Jean. Licensed under CC by 4.0

  • First flight: 19 July 2022
  • Introduction: 2026 (planned)
  • Users: Republic of Korea Air Force and Indonesian Air Force
  • Crew: 1 or 2
  • Length: 16.9 meters (55 feet 5 inches)
  • Wingspan: 11.2 meters (36 feet 9 inches)
  • Height: 4.7 meters (15 feet 5 inches)
  • Gross weight: 17,200 kilograms (37,920 pounds)
  • Maximum takeoff weight: 25,400 kilograms (55,997 pounds)
  • Maximum speed: Mach 1.81
  • Range: 2,900 kilometers (1,800 miles)
  • Hardpoints: 10 (six under-wing and four under-fuselage)
  • Missiles: a wide range of missiles including MBDA Meteor, AIM-120 AMRAAM, Taurus KEPD, AGM-84 Harpoon, among others.

South Korea prepares itself to be military technological power

While South Korea has been a technological powerhouse for decades, the military depends entirely on its support from the United States.

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But, now it is looking to build up its technology to meet the challenges ahead, such as its military competition with China and the North Korean threat that is likely to stay for a long time.


Feature image credit: KF21 by KF-21A. Licensed under CC by 4.0