Putting the partnership in jeopardy

Indonesia has yet again failed to notify the South Korean government of its financial plan for contributing to the KF-21 fighter project, Alert 5 first noted.

This disconcerting turn of events put this collaborative endeavor in jeopardy.

The Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA), Seoul’s arms procurement agency, said on Nov. 1, 2023 that Indonesia didn’t provide its payment plan by the end of October as promised, The Korea Economic Daily reports.

The KF-21 Boramae, a joint project between South Korea and Indonesia

The KF-21 Boramae (Hawk) is a joint project between South Korea and Indonesia to develop a next-generation supersonic combat plane with Korea’s homegrown technology for key components.

In return for a deal for Jakarta to receive a prototype of the fighter jet and technical support for the local production of 48 units in Indonesia, in 2016, Indonesia agreed to shoulder some 1.3 trillion won ($958 million), or about 20% of the multi-billion-dollar project.

Jakarta has so far paid 278.3 billion won with the remaining 991.1 billion won overdue.

Earlier this year, Indonesia said it would inform Korea of a payment schedule by the end of June but it didn’t. It later said it would submit a plan by the end of October.

Minister of DAPA Eom Dongwhan said that not to keep up with its payments undermines trust in Jakarta commitment to developing an advanced multirole warplane for the air forces of the two nations.

A DAPA official said on Oct. 31 it is looking into various possibilities over what to do with its partnership with Indonesia while awaiting Jakarta’s payment plans.

[Video] First flight of KF-21 Boramae, South Korea's first indigenous fighter jet

The KF-21 Boramae 4.5+” gen fighter

The KF-21 Boramae conducted its successful first flight on Jul. 19, 2022 and is currently designed to be a “4.5+” gen fighter intended to be one of the most capable in its class with its “stealthy” low-RCS design. Being larger than the F-35, KF-21 will be significantly more capable than the latest F-16V and eventually replace F-16Us in Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) service.

The KF-21 is aimed at replacing the ROKAF’s dated McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II and Northrop F-5 fighter jets.

As we have already explained, ROKAF has officially ordered feasibility study to upgrade KF-21 into a “5.5th gen” fighter jet.

This is ROKAF’s first acknowledgement that they’re pursuing possible development of 5th gen fighter jet. If ROKAF approves of such program following its internal feasibility study, the proposed “Block III” upgrade program could commence after 2026/2028.

ROKAF could also pursue a larger aircraft based on the KF-21 platform, dubbed KF-XX, instead of Block III program. This would be a similar upgrade from legacy F/A-18 Hornet to F/A-18E Super Hornet, or F-15 Eagle to F-15E Strike Eagle.

Indonesia’s decision to purchase fighter jets from other countries

As explained by Alert 5, Indonesia’s decision to purchase fighter jets from other countries while withholding payments to South Korea has significantly eroded the latter’s trust. Financial constraints have been cited as the reason for the delayed payments. Indonesia signed a memorandum of understanding to acquire 24 units of the F-15EX from US manufacturer Boeing Co. In February 2022, Indonesia also sealed an $8.1 billion deal to procure 42 Dassault Rafale fighter jets from France.

Indonesia might be opting for fighter jets that can be immediately deployed in combat, in contrast to the KF-21, which is still under development, Choi Hyun-ho, a military commentator, suggested. The need for more capable and readily deployable aircraft might be pressing given that the country currently operates Russian fighter jets and older F-16s.

Indonesia’s delay in payments might be politically motivated

According to some experts, Indonesia’s delay in payments might also be politically motivated. Indonesia’s Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, who is the son-in-law of former President Suharto, is anticipated to run for the presidency in the upcoming election. This might lead to attempts to renegotiate the terms of the KF-21 contract, seeking more favorable conditions for Indonesia.

Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), the South Korean aircraft developer, has assured that it can manage without Indonesia’s contributions. As told by The Korea Economic Daily, industry officials said some countries, including Poland and the United Arab Emirates, have shown interest in the KF-21 project, tapping into the possibility of a partnership with South Korea.

South Korea rolls out KAI KF-21 Boramae 4.5 gen fighter

Photo credit: Republic of Korea Air Force and KAI