KF-21 Tests Move Into Weapons-Release Phase


KF-21 releases a Meteor missile.

Credit: South Korean Defense Acquisition Program Administration

SINGAPORE—The South Korean Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) says its KF-21 flight-test program has entered the weapon-release phase, with two sorties to conduct over-water missile and gun tests off the country’s southern coast on March 28.

A DAPA video (below) shows KF-21002 carrying four MBDA Meteor air-to-air missiles on its belly weapon stations, as well as a captive IRIS-T missile and an air-combat maneuvering instrumentation pod on its underwing pylons. DAPA says KF-21 003 fired about 100 rounds from its portside 20-mm gun.

DAPA says the tests are being used to examine and identify possible structural, engine and aerodynamic changes to the aircraft to ensure its operational safety during weapons release.

The weapon-release test comes only eight months after the KF-21’s first flight. To put this in perspective, the Lockheed Martin F-35A fired its first AIM-120 Amraam four years after a “weight optimized” aircraft flew in June 2008, and nearly six years after the first AA-1 prototype flew in 2006.

Due to costs and technology limitations, South Korea did not pursue an internal weapons bay for the first two blocks of the KF-21. Korea Aerospace Industries recently announced it is planning to propose a Block 3 variant to the South Korea air force with an internal weapons bay and enhanced low-observable technology features.

“MBDA continues to support the KF-21 program through integration support, test missiles and in-country support,” a spokesperon tells Aerospace DAILY. “The missile release is an important milestone in validating the aircraft systems and the missile separation. Due to the pace and progress of the KF-21 aircraft program and the need to deliver its initial operational capability, MBDA’s support will continue to build through 2023 both in-country and remotely.” 

Chen Chuanren

Chen Chuanren is the Southeast Asia and China Editor for the Aviation Week Network’s (AWN) Air Transport World (ATW) and the Asia-Pacific Defense Correspondent for AWN, joining the team in 2017.