The South Korean KF-21 ‘Boramae’ fighter jet prototype is being dismantled raising doubts that it may have been hastily assembled to meet the unveiling ceremony deadline on April 9.
“The prototype has been stripped of its engine and various components, leaving it nearly exposed to its underlying frame and propped up on supporting beams,” koreajoongangdaily reported June 1 without attributing any sources to its information.
The speculation is that the prototype was assembled just to appear ready before the ceremony, which was attended by President Moon Jae-in and Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto. Indonesia, which is skeptical of the project, reportedly agreed to resume its participation and meet its financial contribution after talks between Moon and Subianto.
“Even if [the dismantling] is in preparation for a ground test, a wholesale disassembly is difficult to comprehend,” the publication said quoting an anonymous retired Air Force general. “Normally, the unveiling of a prototype takes place before the final ground test and test flight,” the general said, suggesting that the prototype was not flight-worthy before it’s unveiling.
However, the publication quoted an unnamed official from the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA), which is leading the KF-21 project, stating that the dismantling was part of a “planned phase in the ground test process.”
The publication wrote, “the view of various experts is that the removal of crucial components of the plane, such as its landing gear, refueling and key piloting systems, goes above and beyond what is necessary before tests are conducted on the jet.”
An aerospace industry insider who also asked to remain anonymous told the publication, “Even after assembly is completed, there are many particulars to check, such as the center of gravity, which may not align with the design. However, the dismantling exceeds the usual replacement of small components or inspections.”
According to earlier information released by DAPA and the jet’s manufacturer, Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), ground tests of the KF-21 prototype is scheduled to begin later this year while maiden flight is marked for 2022. However ground test now look to be delayed with the plane’s engine dismounted.
Koreajoongangdaily said that requests for current photos of the KF-21 were rebuffed by KAI. “We don’t want to create any misunderstandings by showing people the disassembled prototype after they already saw the completed jet,” it said quoting an anonymous source at KAI.
An unnamed military source suggested to the publication that the prototype, which was originally scheduled to be completed in May, was finished to coincide with the Indonesian defense delegation’s April visit to Korea. “If Indonesia gives up its role in funding the KF-21, the government can plug the resulting budget shortfall, but it would throw cold water on export plans,” he said.
Indonesia is paying 1.6 trillion won ($1.4 billion), or 20 percent, of the 8.5 trillion won development price tag. Jakarta will eventually receive 50 out of a total 170 jets besides manufacturing technology.