South Korean KF-21 fighter jet completes its first aerial refueling test

On Tuesday, March 14, the KF-21, a supersonic fighter jet developed by South Korea, achieved a major step by completing its first aerial refueling test, the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) announced. This test involved prototype number 5, which took off from the 3rd training airfield in Sacheon, South Gyeongsang Province.
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South Korea KF-21 twin-seat fighter jet (Picture source: Wikimedia)

During the test, an Air Force KC-330 tanker aircraft successfully connected a refueling rod to the KF-21 to inject fuel mid-flight. The test's primary objective was to assess the impact of turbulence during aerial refueling on the KF-21 and to ensure that the procedures for connecting and disconnecting with the tanker aircraft could proceed without incident.

According to DAPA, this success is expected to significantly increase the operational radius of the KF-21 by about 50%, thereby improving its endurance and payload capacity. This, in turn, should optimize the operational performance of the aircraft, especially for long-distance missions, and enhance the combat power of the Air Force.

Noh Ji-man, the head of DAPA's Korean fighter project division, stated that further tests on the KF-21's aerial refueling capabilities at various altitudes and speeds are planned, with about 60 trials by March 2025. To date, six prototypes of the KF-21 have been built and have undergone tests assessing various capabilities, including supersonic flight and air-to-air weapon separation.

The development of the KF-21, also known as KF-X (Korean Fighter eXperimental), is a joint project between South Korea and Indonesia aimed at producing a next-generation fighter aircraft. Launched in 2015 in partnership with Indonesia, the KF-21 project aims to replace the aging F-4 and F-5 jets of the Air Force. Despite challenges, such as an investigation into an attempted theft of technological data by two Indonesian engineers and delays in Indonesia's financial contributions, which are supposed to cover 20% of the total project cost, estimated at $6.5 billion, DAPA insists that these payments must be completed by 2026.

Despite these challenges, the KF-21 has made progress in its development. Several prototypes have been built and have successfully undergone various tests, including supersonic flight tests and weapon separation tests. The KF-21 is equipped with advanced technologies such as state-of-the-art sensors, communication systems, and avionics.

The first production model of the KF-21 is scheduled to be delivered to the Air Force in the first half of 2026, marking a significant advancement for South Korea's air defense capabilities.