South Korea’s KF-21 ‘Stealth’ Fighter Jet Takes Center Stage In Debut Appearance At Seoul ADEX

On October 17, South Korea’s domestically developed stealth fighter aircraft, the KF-21, made its first-ever public appearance at the ongoing Seoul ADEX defense exhibition.

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The KF-21, as part of its participation in the opening ceremony of the Seoul International Aerospace & Defense Exhibition (ADEX) 2023, took to the skies for a public aerial demonstration at the air base in Seongnam, which is situated just south of Seoul. 

The KF-21 displayed remarkable maneuverability during the five-minute flight by performing several turns. A KF-21 prototype was also on static display for domestic and international visitors.  

Besides the KF-21, the Republic of Korea Air Force fleet that made a demonstration flyby at the exhibition featured FA-50s, Boeing F-15Ks, Lockheed Martin F-16s, Lockheed F-35s, and auxiliary aircraft like KAI Surion helicopters and an Airbus Defence & Space A330 multi-role tanker transport.

Despite the continued reports highlighting Jakarta’s consistent delays in fulfilling its financial commitments associated with its role in the program, the aircraft featured the flags of both Indonesia and South Korea.

The KF-21 plays a central role in Korea Aerospace Industries’s participation at this year’s exhibition, mainly due to the substantial expansion of the event, driven by South Korea’s diverse aircraft procurement strategies and its increasing participation in the defense export sector. 

According to KAI officials, the KF-21 program continues to progress as planned, and development is expected to conclude in 2026 after several hundred more test flights are completed. 

Mass production is scheduled to kick off next year, and deliveries to the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) will commence in the latter half of 2026.

The Air Force has outlined its goal of acquiring 120 advanced multi-role fighter jets by 2032, aiming to retire its aging F-4s and F-5s. 

Among the cutting-edge features of the KF-21, in addition to the AESA radar known for its ability to track multiple targets using highly advanced and efficient components, the aircraft incorporates an infrared search-and-track system designed to identify and track low-flying targets emitting infrared radiation, such as anti-ship missiles.

Seoul International Aerospace & Defense Exhibition

The ADEX this year marks the most significant scale since its establishment in 1996, with participation from 550 companies representing 35 different countries, as reported by the organizers.

South Korea’s major defense firms unveiled an impressive array of their state-of-the-art military equipment and ongoing projects at the Seoul Aerospace & Defense Exhibition (ADEX), which commenced officially at Seoul Air Base in Seongnam, Gyeonggi, on October 17.

Showcasing their latest weapons systems and technological advancements, prominent South Korean corporations, including Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) and Hanwha Group, aim to bolster their defense exports. 

These endeavors are motivated by the favorable momentum created by large arms contracts South Korea has entered into with various nations in recent years. 

KAI also showcased its FA-50 light fighter aircraft models, underscoring the sustained global interest following the company’s recent contract to provide modified jet versions to Poland. 

South Korea’s domestically developed stealth fighter aircraft, the KF-21: Twitter

KAI also displayed its domestically developed light-armed helicopter, which completed its development phase last year and has now transitioned into mass production. 

The exhibition also highlighted KAI’s cutting-edge air vehicles, designed to serve as next-generation mobility solutions for military and civilian applications, including unmanned vertical takeoff and landing vehicles.

In the Space Zone at the fair, Hanwha Aerospace’s exhibit featured models of the Nuri space launch vehicle and South Korea’s inaugural lunar orbiter, Danuri. 

This lunar orbiter project was developed through collaboration between the Korea Aerospace Research Institute and 40 private enterprises, including Hanwha.

Hyundai Rotem, the manufacturer of K-2 Black Panther main battle tanks, which Poland recently acquired, unveiled a heavily armored export variant of the tank at the Seoul ADEX for the first time.

This new export version, known as the K-2EX, incorporates an active protection system and a customizable remote-controlled weapon system designed to meet potential buyers’ specific requirements and preferences.

In addition to the K-2EX, Hyundai Rotem unveiled a life-sized model of a wheeled armored vehicle currently in development. The company indicated that this vehicle might participate in future bids if opportunities arise.