(ATTN: REWRITES headline, lead for clarity; UPDATES with more details in para 5, 7-14, ADDS more photos)
SEOUL, April 9 (Yonhap) -- President Moon Jae-in said Friday South Korea will begin mass production of its first-generation indigenous fighter after completing tests, with a goal of deploying at least 120 jets by 2032.
Moon announced the plan at an unveiling event of the KF-21 Boramae fighter prototype held at the Korea Aerospace Industries headquarters in the southern city of Sacheon, South Gyeongsang Province.
South Korea began the 8.8 trillion-won (US$7.9 billion) program to replace the Air Force's aging fleet of F-4 and F-5 jets in late 2015.
"We have opened a new era of self defense and also established a historic milestone in the progression of the aviation industry," Moon said in a speech.
Moon explained that the combat jet will go into full-fledged production as soon as ground and flight tests are completed. Production is expected to begin no earlier than 2026.
"We plan to deploy 40 jets by 2028 and a total of 120 by 2032," the president added.
Moon also underscored the KF-21 Boramae's incorporation of various cutting-edge proprietary technologies, including the active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar.
"The pros of having our very own fighter jet are hard to describe. We will be able to produce and deploy when needed, and change parts and do repairs at our own disposal," Moon said.
The project, according to Moon, will not only bolster South Korea's defense readiness but also generate economic effects. "Some 100,000 new jobs will be created following full-fledge production and also lead to an added economic effect of nearly 5.9 trillion won," he said.
"The (economic) effects will grow bigger following brisk overseas exports (of the jet)," Moon added.
Moon also thanked Indonesia for its partnership in South Korea's indigenous fighter project. A Jakarta delegation, led by Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto, was also present at the rollout event.
Doubts have grown over Jakarta's commitment to the joint program after the Southeast Asian country stopped making payments for the 20 percent of the total development cost it had promised to shoulder.
But during his meetings with Moon and South Korean Defense Minister Suh Wook, the Indonesian minister agreed the fighter jet project symbolizes trust between the two countries, according to officials.
Moon said Seoul and Jakarta will be partners throughout the completion of development and establishment of production systems that would allow the two sides to jointly sell jets to third countries.