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Indonesian Engineers Under Investigation For South Korean KF-21 Boramae Data Leak Attempt

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KF-21 prototype (KAI)

South Korean police forces have raided KAI’s offices following data leak attempt by Indonesian engineers in January.

Following the initial discovery of a data breach last month, the South Korean police have raided KAI with a search and seize warrant on Mar. 15, 2024. As part of Indonesia’s involvement in the KF-X program, roughly ten engineers have been working at KAI to receive technology transfer. However, South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) reported that, on Jan. 17, 2024, two Indonesian engineers were caught attempting to smuggle out several unauthorised flash drives out of KAI’s facilities. Since then, a joint investigation was launched by DAPA, the National Intelligence Service, and the Defense Counterintelligence Command to determine whether any classified information has been leaked or if there has been a violation of the Defense Industry Technology Protection Act.

While officials from DAPA and KAI have previously stated that they have not found any evidence of national secrets such as core technologies being leaked, the independent investigation has just begun. From initial assessments by DAPA and KAI, it has been revealed that the flash drives in question had over 6,000 files previously written on them. Furthermore, one of the engineers is facing allegations that he/she used a phone to illegally take pictures of blueprints.

It is told that the Indonesian engineers had restricted access within KAI’s research facilities However, due to the significant amount of data accessed by these engineers, the Counterintelligence Command and the National Intelligence Service are investigating the possibility of an insider within KAI. Since January, the two key suspects have been banned from leaving South Korea. On March 15, the police have raided KAI’s office in Sacheon for the two engineers’ workstations as well as their individual residencies the day before.

Indonesian engineers temporarily banned from leaving Korea as investigation starts, more to come as situation develops.

The police have stated that they are also considering arresting the engineers in question due to severity of the situation. However, at the moment the two foreigners have just been banned from leaving the country and have been asked for cooperation with the police department. According to the Defense Acquisition Program Act, Article 50, “If a person engaged in the production or research of defense materials at a defense industry discloses secrets learned during the course of his or her work, he or she may be punished by imprisonment for up to 5 years or by a fine of up to 50 million won (40,000 USD).”

With the investigation just having started, it is expected for quite some time before the full extent of the data leak to be unveiled. While the incidence was first flagged at the gates of KAI, whether there were previous successful attempts of data leaks is yet to be determined.

Lalu Muhammad Iqbal, spokesperson of the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, previously spoke in February that the Indonesian Embassy in Seoul is communicating with the South Korean Foreign Ministry and several relevant institutions to gather more information about the case. However, the number of Indonesian engineers under investigation on Lalu’s statement differed from what has been reported. When asked to confirm the number, Lalu said: “[it’s] one engineer.”

With such a major breach in security, the investigation in Korea should be carefully monitored as the situation unfolds. As of now the investigation is focusing on the specific documents the engineers tried to leak.

KF-21 prototype (#005) successfully completed its first aerial refuelling test with a ROKAF KC-330

Meanwhile, the KF-21 program progresses. As already reported, on March 19, 2024, DAPA announced that the KF-21 successfully completed its first aerial refuelling test earlier that day. According to their press release, the aircraft that took part in the test today was KF-21 #005. In total there are six prototype airframes, of which three (#001, #003, 005) are single seater variants. Along with #006, airframe #005 share a low vis camo livery.

Korean Aerospace Industries’ (KAI) KF-21 took off from Sacheon Airport (3rd Flight Training Wing) to form up with ROKAF TA-50s of the 16th Fighter Wing chase planes off the south coast of Korea. The one on yesterday was he KF-21’s first dry contact with the ROKAF’s MRTT variant, KC-330 Cygnus. DAPA announced that the aerial refuelling test phase began on March 8, 2024, and after a week of preliminary work, the first airborne test began today.

KF-21 on track to enter ROKAF service by 2026.

It appears that flight test plans are on track with the proposed time frame of entry to service by 2026. The current flight test plans are scheduled to end by the first half of 2026. The ROKAF is planning on acquiring 40 airframes of the initial Block I variant between 2024 and 2028. The Block I will have air to air and limited air to ground capabilities to replace the aging ROKAF F-4 and F-5 fleet. Recently the ROKAF released a training footage of its F-4E shooting a live AIM-7M missile. Along with the national market, there have been previous intentions for Indonesia to buy 48 KF-21 Block Is. With previous payment issues between the two governments in the past, Indonesia has paid its share of development fees for up to June 2026.

Along with the delivery of Block Is in 2026, development of the Block II will ensue, aiming for a goal of finishing by 2028. The ROKAF plans on acquiring 80 Block II variants between 2029 and 2032 to replace the F-16C/D fleet. Furthermore, Poland’s Polska Grupa Zbrojeniowa (PGZ) have previously stated interest in joining the KF-X program in the Block II stage as a replacement for Indonesia. It should be noted that this was merely a statement of interest and further serious deals between the two countries on the KF-21 are yet to materialise.

As of now, plans for a Block III variant with internal weapons bays and internalised sensors are not set in stone. While KAI and ADD officials say there are plans on upgrading the platform into a 5th generation fighter, ROKAF officials have been spotted wanting the development of a brand-new 6th generation fighter instead. Thus, any plans for the KF-21 Block III should be discussed sceptically until further progress is made in the earlier phases.

Wonwoo is a student journalist and contributor to The Aviationist based in London, United Kingdom. Currently studying MEng in Aeronautical Engineering with a keen interest in OSINT, plane spotting and aircraft design. He is a former Sergeant of the Republic of Korea Army, having served as an artillery Fire Direction Centre Vehicle Radio Operator.

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