11:20 GMT12 May 2021
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    A mixture of high cost and low reliability have led a number of nations to seek their own indigenous alternatives to the US’ F-35 stealth fighter, including US partners like South Korea and Japan that have also agreed to buy some of the jets.

    At a Friday ceremony in Sacheon, South Korea, the country’s first indigenously designed stealth fighter was unveiled: the Korea Aerospace Industries KF-21, previously known as the KF-X.

    Attending were South Korean President Moon Jae-in and a delegation from Indonesia that included Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto. Jakarta has a 20% stake in the KF-21 program, although its commitment has been questioned in recent months amid economic troubles and a delay in payments to the program.

    Photos snapped by reporters show a jet remarkably similar in appearance to the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, albeit sporting a second engine and external hardpoints. According to KAI, the KF-21 will be superior to the F-35 in some respects, such as speed, but inferior in others, including stealth capabilities. KAI will also build a two-seater version.

    Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) reveals its KF-21 stealth fighter, an indigenous alternative to the F-35, at its factory in Sacheon, South Korea on April 9, 2021
    A prototype of Korea Aerospace Industries' KF-21 stealth fighter seen ahead of the Friday unveiling ceremony in Sacheon, South Korea

    At the ceremony, KAI revealed the jet’s designation will be the KF-21 Boramae, or “Young Hawk.”

    “A new era of independent defense has begun,” Moon said. The aircraft is intended to be a cheaper version of the F-35, an advanced US-made jet that is extremely expensive, but of which Seoul has already pledged to buy at least 60.

    By contrast, the KF-21 is intended to replace South Korea’s aging fleet of imported US jets, including the F-4 Phantom II and F-5 Tiger fighters. Moon said the first flight would come next year, and that the country would have 40 combat-ready jets by 2028, with as many as 120 ready by 2032.


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    F-35, stealth fighter, South Korea, KF-X Fighter Jet
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