Korean KF-X combat aircraft is taking shape

Korean KF-X combat aircraft
KF-X combat aircraft.

South Korea's project to develop its own fighter plane is taking shape. In September 2019 Seoul completed the CDR (Critical Design Review) of its new KF-X fighter and scheduled important milestones for the program: roll-out of the first prototype by mid-2020, first flight in 2022 and completion of development in 2026.

The mock-up of the aircraft was recently shown at the Aerospace and Defense Exhibition 2019 in Seoul. The KF-X will be part of the 4.5-generation fighter class and will have operational capabilities similar to those of the advanced F-16 Viper.

The KF-X project has a current value of 7.2 billion dollars and is led by the ADD (Agency for Defense Development) and by the KAI (Korean Aerospace Industry) in collaboration with the Indonesian industry that holds 20% of the value. The consortium plans to produce at least 120 units that will strengthen the fleets of the ROKAF (Republic of Korea Air Force) and the Indonesian Air Force. Indonesia should buy 48 aircraft, compared to the 80 initially planned. Currently, due to problems related to the internal budget, the nation is trying to renegotiate the terms of its participation in the project by trying to replace the money disbursement with forms of goods exchange as with the supply of Airbus CN235 transport aircraft built under license by the PTDI Indonesian Aerospace.

The design of the KF-X was completed in June 2018 after several tests in the wind tunnel and the mock-up was completed in February 2019 thanks also to the collaboration of Lockheed Martin, as an industrial compensation for the purchase of 40 F-35As from Seoul.

The KF-X will be powered by two General Electric F414-KI engines that will provide the aircraft with great operational capabilities and autonomy. An engine prototype should be ready by mid-2020. It is a reworked version of the well-known F414-GE-400 which equips the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and Gripen E.

The radar project is demanding a lot of attention due to the restrictions imposed by the US government, its development is currently underway by the South Korean national industries. On May 30, 2019, Seoul declared that it had completed a first CDR on the AESA radar of which a prototype was developed by Hanhwa Systems and the LIG Nex1 in collaboration with Israeli Elta Systems. The first prototype will be ready by the second half of 2020 and the tests on board the KF-X in 2023. The radar should have similar capabilities to the Northrop Grumman APG-83 Scalable Agile Beam Radar which equips the F-16V.

Korean KF-X combat aircraft

The mock-up shown at the ADEX 2019 was equipped with six sub-wing attack points that hooked two fuel tanks, two short-range IRIS-T air-to-air missiles and two smart-guided bombs plus four air-to-air missiles long-range MBDA Meteor fixed under the fuselage. In addition, a replica of Lockheed Martin's Sniper targeting pod was mounted under one of the air intakes. The DAPA wanted to arm the aircraft with American missiles such as the AIM-120s and the AIM-9s but currently the US government has applied export restrictions on these weapons.

According to the KAI, the aircraft will be produced first in the Block I configuration, like that of the mockup, and subsequently in the Block II configuration which should include various upgrades and the development of the internal hold to increase its stealth ability.

Written by Matteo Sanzani

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