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South Korea’s domestically developed KF-21 fighter jet achieved a significant milestone on Tuesday with its first successful aerial refueling test. This advancement promises to significantly enhance the jet’s capabilities.

The Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) announced that prototype number 5 of the KF-21 took off from an airbase in Sacheon and completed the aerial refueling over the country’s southeastern waters. The refueling involved a KC-330 tanker aircraft transferring fuel to the KF-21 mid-flight.

The primary objective of the test was to assess the KF-21’s performance during aerial refueling, particularly its handling of turbulence and the safe connection and separation procedures with the tanker.

This successful test represents a major step forward for the KF-21 program. DAPA estimates that a single aerial refueling can potentially extend the jet’s operational range by up to 50%. This translates to longer flight times and the ability to carry more weapons, significantly bolstering the Air Force’s combat effectiveness.

DAPA plans to conduct further tests on the KF-21’s aerial refueling capabilities in various flight conditions over the next year. These tests aim to thoroughly verify the system’s performance before deployment.

The KF-21 program, launched in 2015 as a joint effort with Indonesia, aims to replace South Korea’s aging F-4 and F-5 fighter jets with a domestically produced supersonic aircraft.

While the program has achieved significant progress, it has also faced hurdles. Allegations of technology data theft by Indonesian engineers involved in the project are currently under investigation by Korean authorities. Additionally, Indonesia has fallen behind on their financial contributions to the project. DAPA has reiterated that Indonesia must fulfill its funding obligations by 2026.