The sixth and final prototype of the Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) KF-21 fighter has joined the type’s test programme.
The jet conducted a 33-minute sortie from KAI’s Sacheon factory on 28 June, according to Seoul’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA).
As with the fourth prototype, the last prototype is a two-seater. The other four prototypes are single seaters.
The sixth aircraft will play a role like the other test aircraft, namely expanding the type’s flight envelope and testing the performance of avionics including the indigenously developed active electronically scanned array radar. It will also perform weapons tests.
In May, DAPA director Eom Dong-hwan stated that the KF-21 has attained ‘provisional suitability for combat’ following nearly a year of flights after the first prototype had its maiden sortie in July 2022.
Provisional combat status is necessary for mass production to begin in 2024, and deliveries to the Republic of Korea Air Force in the second half of 2026.
DAPA has also announced that KAI has completed deliveries of the MUH-1 Marinon transport helicopter to the country’s marines.
DAPA does not state the number of MUH-1s delivered, but in December 2016 KAI announced that it has secured a W630 billion ($275 million) contract from DAPA for 30 MUH-1s, with deliveries to run from 2017-2023. South Korean media reports also indicate 30 deliveries.
Unlike the KUH-1 Surion on which it is based, the MUH-1’s rotor blades can be folded. In addition to a four-man crew (two pilots and two gunners) it can carry nine marines. The type has emergency floats that can deploy with the press of a button. If required by the mission, crews can quickly add special internal long-range fuel tanks.
In October 2022, KAI announced a W440 billion contract to develop an attack helicopter for marine use. The helicopter, also to be based on the KUH-1 Surion, will enter service in the late 2020s, with 20 units to be procured.