Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) has secured the first mass production contract for the KF-21 fighter, covering 20 aircraft.

The contract is valued at W1.96 trillion ($1.4 billion) and includes logistics support such as training and technical manuals, says KAI.


Source: Greg Waldron/FlightGlobal

The initial KF-21 production contract covers 20 examples

Deliveries will commence in late 2026, when the KF-21 is expected to join the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF).

In March, South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) announced that it had approved an initial production lot covering the years 2024-2028. It did not state the number of aircraft, but gave the overall value of the deal as W7.9 trillion.

KAI’s contract follows a related announcement from Hanwha Aerospace, which on 25 June said that the DAPA had awarded it a contract “valued around $401 million” to licence produce 40 GE Aerospace F414 engines for the KF-21 programme.

In March, when the DAPA announced that it had cleared mass production of the KF-21, South Korean media reports suggested that KAI had sought a contract for 40 aircraft.

Reports suggested that the DAPA wants more tests before ordering the second batch of 20 jets, particularly related to the fighter’s indigenously developed active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, as well as its air-to-air missile capabilities.

Officials stressed that the staggered approach to obtaining the first 40 jets will not affect the programme’s timeline.

The ROKAF aims to operate 120 KF-21s by 2032. Powered by two F414 engines, the KF-21 will replace the air force’s McDonnell Douglas F-4s – the last of which were retired recently – and Northrop F-5s.