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Philippines Eyes South Korea's KF-21 Boramae as Fifth-Gen Multirole Fighter Jet.

In August 2022, Colonel Maynard Mariano, spokesperson for the Philippine Air Force (PAF), highlighted that the KF-21 Boramae, a fighter jet developed by Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), was considered a potential candidate for the country's Multi-Role Fighter (MRF) project aimed at modernizing and enhancing its aerial capabilities. During the DSA 2024 event in Malaysia, a South Korean delegation discussed with Philippine officials the potential export of the KF-21 jet and submarines, as well as increasing purchases of FA-50 fighters.

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Korea Aerospace Industries KF-21 Boramae Fifth-Gen Multirole Fighter Jet 
(Picture source: Wikimedia)

According to an official statement from Korea's Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA), specific cooperation measures fitting into the Philippines' three-stage military modernization plan were deliberated with key Philippine officials. The focus was particularly on the KF-21, the FA-50, and submarines, which have piqued the interest of the Philippines.

The KF-21, which is still in its flight test phase, was presented as a serious contender to meet the needs of the MRF, although the program has not yet been funded. "Since the MRF has not yet received funding, the KF-21 could well compete in this program," stated Colonel Mariano. He added that if Manila decided to acquire only the KF-21, it would encourage production tailored to the needs of the PAF for 2027-2029.

This development comes after a series of evaluations conducted by the Philippine Department of Defense, which had initially considered the F-16 Block 70 Viper from Lockheed Martin and the JAS-39 Gripen from Saab. Cost considerations led the PAF to explore other options, with the KF-21 emerging as a viable alternative.

The KF-21 is particularly notable for its integration of advanced technologies, including an AESA radar, a sophisticated electronic warfare suite, and targeting and reconnaissance pods, with 65% of its components locally designed in South Korea. However, much of its weaponry would come from MBDA.

Colonel Mariano concluded by emphasizing the importance of remaining open to new technologies, particularly in a context where prototyping stages can be accelerated due to technological advancements. "We cannot close our options when there is a new system capable of competing with others and that could meet our defense needs. In this era, prototyping of any system can be achieved much more quickly due to the availability of technology, and we might see it soon," he asserted.

The final decision on the acquisition of new jets remains pending, but the KF-21 positions itself as a serious candidate to bolster Philippine air defense in the face of regional challenges, notably territorial claims in the South China Sea.

As a reminder, the Philippine Air Force currently uses a variety of aircraft, primarily focused on versatile roles and light attack capabilities. The FA-50PH jets, produced by Korea Aerospace Industries, make up the bulk of their current fighter fleet. These aircraft serve both training and combat roles, enhancing the air patrol and defense capabilities of the Air Force. The Philippine Air Force has acquired a total of 12 FA-50PH combat jets from Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), with the delivery of the last jets completed in May 2017.

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