South Korea Undertakes First Meteor Missile Test with KF-21 Fighter Jet

South Korea Undertakes First Meteor Missile Test with KF-21 Fighter Jet

The KF-21 fighter jet, developed in South Korea, is set for its first real-fire exercise using advanced Meteor air-to-air missiles later this week, as reported by Yonhap on May 7, 2024.

The test firing is scheduled to take place over the ocean, off the southern coast of Korea, this week. This follows the successful separation of Meteor missiles during a test with two KF-21 prototypes in March 2023. The upcoming test aims to confirm the KF-21’s enhanced range and interception capabilities. A positive result would place the KF-21 among a prestigious group of aircraft, such as the Eurofighter Typhoon, Rafael, and Gripen, which have demonstrated similar capabilities.

The KAI KF-21 Boramae is a multi-role fighter jet developed by Korea Aerospace Industries, showcasing South Korea’s ambition and technological capacity in military aviation. The prototype of this aircraft was unveiled in 2021, and it made its first flight on July 19, 2022. The KF-21 is scheduled to enter service in 2026, aligning with forecasts made in 2019.

This ambitious project required substantial investment, amounting to approximately 8,800 billion won, or about 7.56 billion US dollars. Each unit of the KF-21 is estimated to cost 50 million US dollars.

From a technical standpoint, the KF-21 is powered by two F414-400K dual-flow turbojet engines. In terms of dimensions, the aircraft has a wingspan of 11.2 meters, a length of 16.9 meters, and a height of 4.7 meters. The maximum takeoff mass of the aircraft is 25,580 kilograms. The KF-21 can reach a maximum speed of 2,250 kilometers per hour and has an operational range of 1,000 kilometers. The KF-21 is designed to be equipped with up to four Meteor missiles, with plans to start equipping the aircraft next month.

The Meteor missile, in turn, is a beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile developed by MBDA, a European consortium, and has been in service since 2016.

This missile weighs 190 kg and is 3.65 meters long with a diameter of 17.8 cm. It is equipped with a high-explosive fragmentation warhead, optimized for effectively destroying aerial targets through either a proximity or direct impact detonation mechanism.

The Meteor features a throttleable ducted rocket (ramjet) engine, a technology that allows it to adjust thrust in flight to maintain speed and efficiency over long distances. The missile can reach speeds over Mach 4 and is designed to operate effectively at a maximum range of more than 200 kilometers, with a no-escape zone exceeding 60 kilometers, making it extremely difficult to evade once launched.

For guidance, the Meteor utilizes inertial navigation supplemented by mid-course trajectory updates via datalink and terminal active radar homing to precisely locate and track targets until impact. This combination of technologies ensures very high accuracy, even against maneuverable high-speed targets.

The Meteor missile has been integrated into several advanced launch platforms, including the Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, Saab JAS 39 Gripen, and now the KAI KF-21 Boramae. Plans are also underway for its integration onto the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II and HAL Tejas Mk2 in the future.

Korea Aerospace Industries Ltd. plans to manufacture 20 units of the KF-21 this year, with an additional 20 units planned for next year. If the project progresses as planned, the South Korean Air Force is expected to incorporate the KF-21 into its fleet by the second half of 2026, replacing the older F-4 and F-5 jets.

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