S Korean KF-21 Jet Could Challenge Gripen, F-16 in Philippines' Fighter Procurement

  • Defensemirror.com Bureau
  • 03:37 PM, September 4, 2022
  • 2522
S Korean KF-21 Jet Could Challenge Gripen, F-16 in Philippines' Fighter Procurement
S Korean KF-21 first flight: KAI photo

The upcoming South Korean KF-21 'Boramae' fighter jet could fly into the Philippines Multi-Role Fighter (MRF) procurement program which already has the Saab Gripen and the F-16 in its short-list.

The KF-21 is currently in its flight test program and is slated to join the Philippines Air Force sometime in 2026. However, the two other contenders are ready for procurement.

Philippines Armed Forces (PAF) spokesperson Col. Maynard Mariano told the country's news agency (PNA) on August 16 "it is a possibility given that the MRF has not been funded yet, the KF-21 can be a contender for the MRF."

The spokesperson's assertions indicate that the short-list of Gripen and F-16 is not final and that the KF-21 has aroused significant interest in Manila. It also means that the procurement could be pushed back to 2027-29 when the South Korean fighter is in serial production.

"We cannot close our options when there are new systems that may be able to compete with other systems and which may fit into our requirement for defense. In this day and age, the prototyping stage for any system can be done faster due to the available technology, and we might see it fielded soon," Mariano was quoted as saying by the PNA.

S Korean KF-21 Jet Could Challenge Gripen, F-16 in Philippines' Fighter Procurement
F-16V fighter jet

The KF-21 has been designed as a fourth-generation aircraft with stealth features. It sports twin engines- two General Electric (GE) F414-400K power-plants. Its two competitors in the MRF program- the Gripen sports a single GE F414-GE-39E turbofan while the F-16V has a single Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-229 or a GE F110-GE-129 engine.

The twin-engine configuration gives the fighter more thrust than either of its competitors which  translates into higher speed or more weapons carrying ability. On the down-side, its fuel-efficiency could be lower than that of the two single-engine fighters.

According the  MRF RFP, the PAF is seeking 12 units of fourth-generation fighters having a range of at least 250 nautical miles. The project is worth around PHP61 billion (US$1.09 billion).

What may work in the KF-21's favor is that its manufacturer,  Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) has supplied 12 FA-50PH light jet fighters to Manila and the PAF has developed a good opinion of the fighter.

S Korean KF-21 Jet Could Challenge Gripen, F-16 in Philippines' Fighter Procurement
Saab Gripen NG

"Just like when we got the FA-50s, there were a lot of negative comments against it, but we proved to the critics that the system can be made combat ready and was actually proven in combat (in the Battle for Marawi)," he added.

Both the short-listed aircraft-the F-16 and the Gripen have air frames dating back to two decades or more. While their latest iterations have features such as AESA radar, the latest in communications and avionics besides compatibility with the latest and legacy weapos, the K-21 sports an all-new air-frame with stealth features, teaming with drones (under development) a South Korea-developed AESA radar and compatibility with Western-made missiles and bombs.

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