South Korea has approved the initial production batch of the Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) KF-21 fighter and moved forward on a purchase plan for a previously announced upgrade programme for the Boeing F-15K Slam Eagle.

The two approvals, both long expected, were announced by Seoul’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) on 22 March.


Source: Greg Waldron/FlightGlobal

The initial production contract covers 20 examples of the fighter over the 2024-2028 period

The KF-21 production approval spans the years 2024-2028 and is valued at W7.9 trillion ($5.8 billion), according to the DAPA.

The number of aircraft involved is not stated, but South Korean media reports quote DAPA officials as saying that the contract covers 20 examples – half the number of airframes that KAI hoped for in the initial production lot.

Reports suggest that DAPA wants more tests before contracting 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, however, say that the staggered approach to obtaining the first 40 jets will not affect the programme’s timeline. The Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) expects to receive the first KF-21 in the second half of 2026 and to operate 120 by 2032. Powered by two GE Aerospace F414 engines, the KF-21 will replace the ROKAF’s McDonnell Douglas F-4s and Northrop F-5s.

Additionally, on 22 March, the DAPA said W3.9 trillion will be allocated to F-15K upgrades, which will be conducted under the US government’s Foreign Military Sales programme.

Seoul, which operates 59 F-15Ks, first announced an upgrade programme for the type in December 2022.

Boeing F-15K Slam Eagle ROKAF

Source: Greg Waldron/FlightGlobal

South Korea is embarking on a major upgrade of its F-15K fleet

The effort, to run from 2024-2034, will see the fighter’s “target identification and strike capabilities” improved.

At the Seoul ADEX defence show in October 2023, Boeing told FlightGlobal that Seoul was still looking at the configuration and timeline of the F-15K upgrade plan.

The Boeing stand at the show featured a two-seat simulator of the F-15EX, the latest iteration of the Boeing fighter, with large touchscreen displays.

In 2022, the DAPA offered more details about specific systems to be upgraded, including the type’s AESA radar, mission computer, and electronic warfare (EW) suite.

Originally unveiled in 2005, the F-15K is equipped with the electronically-scanned Raytheon APG-63V(1) radar.

While the DAPA has not stated a new radar type, a clear option is the APG-82(V)1 AESA that equips the new F-15EX.

The F-15EX’s Honeywell ADCP-II mission computer – which Boeing claims is the “world’s fastest” – and the BAE Systems Eagle Passive Active Warning Survivability System EW kit could also be options for South Korea’s F-15Ks.