The country joining the select club of stealth aircraft manufacturers

At the moment stealth aircraft are produced in only three countries: the USA, Russia and China. Soon a rising military power, South Korea, will join the elite club. After announcing it would buy an aircraft carrier, the Asian state has successfully tested the first prototype of the KF-21 ‘Boramae’ (‘Falcon’ in Korean) aircraft.

Developed by KAI (Korea Aerospace Industries), the aircraft made the 33-minute flight from Sacheon Airport, 300 kilometres south of the capital Seoul.

There are currently only five stealth aircraft designs in active service in the world: F-35 (US), F-22 (US), B-2 Spirit (US), J-20 (China) and Su-57 (Russia). The Americans still have F-117 stealth ground attack aircraft, but these are out of service and are being held in storage.

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The Boramae project is not 100% funded by South Korea. A quarter of the funding is provided by Indonesia.

Seoul wants to put 40 units into active service by 2028 and 120 by 2032. The state currently operates 32 F-35 Lighting II stealth aircraft.

Indonesia would receive 50 KF-21 aircraft.

Harder to detect than an F-16, but not at the level of an F-35

The new aircraft, cheaper and less capable than the F-35, will replace the aging F-4E Phantom and 5E/F Tiger II aircraft in South Korean service.

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Although it closely resembles fifth-generation aircraft such as the F-22, the Boramae is a Generation 4.5 aircraft. It does not offer the same high degree of “stealth” (no aircraft is completely invisible on radar), because it carries weapons externally, not in an internal compartment. In future versions the plane could become a truly stealth aircraft.

A total of six KF-21 prototypes will be built, including a two-seater. Testing is expected to be completed in 2026. About 65% of the components used in this project are produced in South Korea.

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