KF-21 program at risk as South Korea’s DAPA reconsiders cooperation with Indonesia

KF-21 program at risk as South Korea’s DAPA reconsiders cooperation with Indonesia

By Dario Leone
Jun 13 2024
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KF-21 program: reconsidering cooperation with Indonesia

Seok Jong-gun, the chief of the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) said that if allegations that Indonesian engineers stole significant KF-21 technologies (involving a 3D design modeling program of the aircraft) prove to be true his agency would “reexamine whether to cooperate in joint development” of the Boramae (Hawk) advanced multirole fighter jet with Indonesia.

“The technology currently granted to Indonesia is at a rudimentary level, and the actual technology will be transferred after the development of the KF-21 is completed in 2026,” Seok said in an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo, an affiliate of the Korea JoongAng Daily, held on May 14 at the Gwacheon Government Complex in Gyeonggi.

At this post South Korea could continue to develop the fighter on its own without Indonesia given that according to Seok’s words Seoul holds the right to decide on technology transfers regarding the KF-21.

The information leaks

The information leak regarding the KF-21 by Indonesian engineers was first reported on Jan. 17, 2024 and after an internal investigation by DAPA the investigation has since been transferred to the South Korean police.

On Feb. 19 Korea was notified by Indonesia that Jakarta would not be able to pay the full contribution of 1.6 trillion won ($1.16 billion) it had promised. Accordingly, DAPA reduced the scope of the technology transfer while adjusting Indonesia’s contribution to 600 billion won.

Seok also added that DAPA will “discuss which technology to transfer in the future while looking at how well Indonesia pays its share.” This can also be interpreted as a policy of “payment first, transfer later.”

KF-21 program at risk as South Korea’s DAPA reconsiders cooperation with Indonesia

Questions about the future of the KF-21 program are raised by the potential termination of Indonesian involvement in the projects. In fact, even though Seoul retains the right to complete development independently, Jakarta’s planned purchase of 48 KF-21 aircraft (designated IFX in Indonesia) would have had established a foothold in the Southeast Asian defense market.

Only time will tell if the KF-21 program can overcome these significant challenges. As Alert 5 reports, the outcome hinges on the results of the technology leak investigation and Indonesia’s ability to regain South Korea’s trust through fulfilling its financial and technological cooperation commitments.

The KF-21 Boramae 4.5+” gen fighter

The KF-21 Boramae conducted its successful first flight on Jul. 19, 2022 and is currently designed to be a “4.5+” gen fighter intended to be one of the most capable in its class with its “stealthy” low-RCS design. Being larger than the F-35, KF-21 will be significantly more capable than the latest F-16V and eventually replace F-16Us in Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) service.

The KF-21 is aimed at replacing the ROKAF’s dated McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II and Northrop F-5 fighter jets.

As we have already explained, ROKAF has officially ordered feasibility study to upgrade KF-21 into a “5.5th gen” fighter jet.

This is ROKAF’s first acknowledgement that they’re pursuing possible development of 5th gen fighter jet. If ROKAF approves of such program following its internal feasibility study, the proposed “Block III” upgrade program could commence after 2026/2028.

ROKAF could also pursue a larger aircraft based on the KF-21 platform, dubbed KF-XX, instead of Block III program. This would be a similar upgrade from legacy F/A-18 Hornet to F/A-18E Super Hornet, or F-15 Eagle to F-15E Strike Eagle.

KF-21 program at risk as South Korea’s DAPA reconsiders cooperation with Indonesia

Photo credit: Republic of Korea Air Force and KAI


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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.
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