South Korean KAI has started the full-scale production of KF-21 fighter jets in a deal worth $1.41 billion

Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) said Tuesday it has signed a 1.96 trillion-won ($1.41 billion) deal with the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA), to commence production of the next-generation KF-21 fighter jet.

Under the deal, KAI will produce 20 units of the KF-21 and provide follow-up logistics support, technical manuals and training. The fighter jets will be in service for the Korean Air Force by the end of 2026.

Korea started a project called the KF-X in the early 2000s to develop its own fighter jet more advanced than the KF-16 and have the multirole fighter plane replace the country’s aging fleet of F-4s and F-5s.

Korea and Indonesia signed a deal in 2010 to cooperate on the project. Jakarta would fund 20 percent of the total development cost of 8.8 trillion won in exchange for a number of planes that would be manufactured there for the Indonesian Air Force.

The KF-21’s development started in 2015 and is slated for completion in 2026. KAI said the development is 80 percent complete, and the aircraft has already demonstrated its performance and stability through initial test evaluations.

The KF-21 finished its first test flight in July 2022 and succeeded in an air-to-air refuelling test, proving the jet’s long-range operational capabilities.

Over 600 domestic partner companies are involved in the development of the KF-21, with a target localization rate of 65 percent.

KAI, based in Sacheon, South Gyeongsang Province, seeks to have the KF-21 as the next lead-off in Korea’s defense exports, following the FA-50 light fighter jets, which are enjoying increasing global demand particularly in Europe.

KAI also said Tuesday it had signed an agreement to partner with Wojskowe Zakłady Lotnicze-2, a maintenance, repair, and overhaul subsidiary of Poland’s state-owned defence group PGZ, to establish the support system for FA-50s.

In July 2022, KAI signed a $3 billion deal with Poland to export 48 FA-50s to the European country and delivered 12 units last year.

“Despite many challenges and difficulties, the KF-21 project reached its current status due to the strong cooperation of the government, the Air Force, DAPA and (participating firms),” KAI CEO Kang Goo-young said. “KF-21 represents a historic achievement in the aerospace industry for Korea and will stand as a symbol of true self-reliance in national defense.”

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