Presidential election outcome threatens Asian stealth KF-21 project

You’re probably aware that Indonesia and South Korea have officially collaborated on the KF-21 Boramae fighter jet project. Unfortunately, this promising alliance has been marred by several issues. 

Watch: KF-21 Boramae fighter armed with 4 METEORs flew for the first time
Photo credit: YouTube

The disagreement primarily revolves around Indonesia’s unmet contributions to the joint venture, leading to whispers about Korea potentially severing ties with their Southeast Asian partner over the development of the KF-21 fighter jet. 

Intensifying the situation are recent claims involving Indonesian engineers attempting to leak sensitive aircraft data. This has further strained the collaboration, causing temperatures between the two nations to plummet. Yonhap News Agency reports that both governments are cautiously navigating this precarious situation to prevent it from escalating into a full-blown diplomatic dispute. 

As a result of these complications, the project aiming to manufacture Korea’s very first home-grown combat aircraft has encountered a significant roadblock. Word has it in the Korean defense circle that Seoul might seize this opportunity to break free from Jakarta amidst the latter’s struggling efforts to solve an overdue payment crisis.

The USB scandal

Earlier this year, in February, an incident took place at the Sacheon factory of Korea Aerospace Industries [KAI], the proud developers of the KF-21. Indonesian representatives were allegedly observed attempting to remove a USB drive loaded with classified data from the facility. 

Currently, a joint investigative team composed of officials from the National Intelligence Agency, Defense Counterintelligence Command, and the Defense Acquisition Program Administration [DAPA] is probing the matter. A month has elapsed, but there is still no decisive outcome to divulge as yet. 

KF-21 Boramae fighter will change the defenses of Korea and Indonesia
Photo credit: AFP

“The respective authorities are diligently managing this issue,” stated a spokesperson from DAPA, maintaining an optimistic tone. However, the representative opted not to reveal the exact number of engineers being scrutinized, a group including roughly a dozen Indonesian technicians employed at the KAI factory. KAI affirmed that the information recovered from the flash drive does not contain any military secrets nor infringes the Defense and Security Technology Act. 

In response to the ongoing investigation, the Indonesian Ministry of Defense has expressed its commitment to continue its collaboration with Korea. The Korean Times hypothesized that the alleged incident might have been triggered by political instability within Indonesia.

The next president of Indonesia

Reports suggest that the upcoming elections in February 2024 in Indonesia might be causing a delay in resolving issues related to the KF-21 Boramae. The data shows that the Defense Minister, Prabowo Subianto, could likely become the nation’s future president considering his substantial majority votes. According to The Korean Times, critics foresee an unpredictable future for the partnership with Indonesia. This perspective heavily depends on future decisions made by President-elect Prabowo Subianto. 

Prabowo, a prior defense minister and retired general, has reported a substantial victory in the recent presidential race, placing him in a prime position to potentially lead this Southeast Asian country over the next five-year term. 

During his tenure as defense minister in 2019, Prabowo advocated for a halt in payments on joint Indonesian development projects and additional technology transfers. Interestingly, despite citing budget restrictions, it was during Prabowo’s time in office that the Indonesian Ministry of Defense decided to procure 42 Rafale fighter jets from France.

KF-21 stealth fighter is getting closer to the European market
Photo credit: Twitter

Korean-Indonesian KF-21

The KF-21 Boramae, formerly known as the KF-X, is a next-generation multi-role fighter aircraft developed by South Korea. It’s a product of Korea Aerospace Industries [KAI], with Indonesia acting as a junior partner. The KF-21 is designed to replace the older F-4 Phantom II and F-5E Tiger II fighters in the South Korean Air Force’s inventory. 

This aircraft boasts an array of impressive technical characteristics. The KF-21 is a twin-engine, single-seat fighter with a maximum speed of Mach 1.83. It features a stealthy design to reduce radar cross-section, and it’s equipped with advanced avionics, including an active electronically scanned array [AESA] radar, an infrared search and track [IRST], and an electronic warfare [EW] suite. 

US allegedly pilfered sensitive KF-21 data to bolster F-35 sales
YouTube screenshot

In terms of dimensions, the KF-21 measures approximately 16.9 meters in length, has a wingspan of 11.2 meters, and stands 4.7 meters tall. Its maximum takeoff weight is around 25,600 kilograms, making it a medium-weight fighter.

The power

The KF-21 is powered by two General Electric F414-GE-400K engines, each capable of producing 22,000 pounds of thrust. These engines are known for their reliability, durability, and performance, and have been used in other advanced fighter aircraft like the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. 

Korea ignited both F414 engines of its stealth KF-21 Boramae
Photo credit: ADN

The operational range of the KF-21 is another of its impressive features. It has a combat radius of approximately 740 kilometers and a ferry range of 2,900 kilometers. This allows the aircraft to conduct missions far from its home base without the need for mid-air refueling. 

Lastly, the KF-21’s armament is designed for both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions. It has a total of 10 hardpoints for carrying weapons, including a mix of short-to-long-range air-to-air missiles, air-to-ground missiles, and precision-guided bombs. The aircraft is also equipped with a single 20mm M61A2 Vulcan cannon for close-range combat.

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