Diehl Defence and Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to “intensify” integration efforts of the IRIS-T missile onto the FA-50/T-50 and KF-21 Block II aircraft.

Detailing the MoU in a 19 February, 2024, release, Diehl Defence stated that the agreement would help in integration efforts of the IRIS-T missile onto the aircraft, following on from a previously signed commitment in 2021. In addition, the MoU covers the collaboration of working groups on marketing efforts for KAI aircraft equipped with Diehl Defence missiles.

The agreement also provides for both companies to investigate the potential to “modify or further develop” Diehl Defence’s missile systems for Korea’s own aircraft programmes. The deal was signed off ahead of the Singapore Airshow, a landmark defence trade event in the Asia-Pacific region.

Diehl Defence and KAI have worked together for a number of years, beginning in 2017 with the start of the integration of IRIS-T into the KF-21 Block I fighter.

Test firings of the IRIS-T were reportedly carried out by KF-21 aircraft in 2023.

Platforms and technology underpinning missile deal

The IRIS-T guided air-to-air missile was developed as aircraft armament for air-to-air missions within a European cooperation programme, and was selected for use by Germany, Greece, Italy, Norway, Spain and Sweden, before being acquired by militaries further afield.

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The system has also been adapted for use in a ground-based air defence role, while testing by Norway in 2016 explored its ability to operate in a naval surface strike mode.

Diehl Defence is prime contractor in the IRIS-T programme and has produced the missile since 2005 with industrial partners from six European countries.

The FA-50 is a light combat aircraft manufactured by KAI for the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) and is a variant of the T-50 Golden Eagle supersonic advanced jet trainer. Development of the FA-50 combat aircraft began in October 1997, before concluding in January 2006.

Meanwhile, the KA-21 Block 2 fighter is a potential 4.5+/5th generation fighter under development by KAI, with work on the programme beginning in 2021. Working under the platform name ‘Boromae’, the ROKAF is expected to have up to 120 KF-21 fighters delivered by 2032.

In February 2023 the South Korean Defense Acquisition Program Administration announced the completion of the maiden flight test of the fourth prototype KF-21 Boramae fighter.