Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) has started mass production of the KF-21 fighter, with the first production aircraft set to enter service at the end of 2026.

A number of government departments recently attended a meeting at KAI to discuss the aircraft’s production strategy, says the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA).

KF-21 Prototype 1 under assembly

Source: Korea Aerospace Industries

Assembly work on the first KF-21 prototype. KAI has produced six KF-21 prototypes at its Sacheon facililty

The meeting follows contract awards to KAI, Hanwha Aerospace, and Hanwha Systems in June. KAI is responsible for the overall aircraft, while Hanwha Aerospace will produce the aircraft’s GE Aerospace F414 engines, and Hanwha Systems the indigenously developed active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar.

The initial production contracts cover 20 aircraft, and the production period is from 2024-2027. The DAPA values the contracts at W2.63 trillion ($1.9 billion).

KAI reportedly wanted a contract for 40 aircraft, but apparently the DAPA wants more tests before ordering the second batch of 20 jets, particularly related to the AESA radar and air-to-air missile capabilities.

The DAPA observes that automation will play a major role in KF-21 production, boosting both accuracy and productivity.

Overall, the Republic of Korea Air Force aims to operate 120 KF-21s by 2032. The KF-21 will replace the service’s McDonnell Douglas F-4s – the last of which were retired recently – and Northrop F-5s.

South Korea also sees opportunities to sell the KF-21 overseas, particularly in the replacement market for the Lockheed Martin F-16. 


South Korea has awarded BAE Systems a $111 million contract for its ARC-232A radio, which uses the SATURN – Second-generation, Anti-jam, Tactical, Ultra-high frequency Radio for NATO – waveform.

The system will equip both fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft.

“In today’s complex and contested battlefields, superiority on the ground, in the air, and at sea is mission critical,” says Dave Logan, vice-president and general manager of C4ISRS at BAE.

“This tailored solution for the Republic of Korea will equip its forces with state-of-the-art, secure, and modern communications for a variety of tactical missions while allowing them to maintain interoperability with the US and coalition partners.”