Korea’s 4.5-generation fighter KF-X targets Southeast Asian market

A front view of a full-sized mock-up of the Korea Aerospace Industries KF-X fighter jet in development is on display at the recent ADEX exhibition held at Seoul Airport in Seongnam, on the outskirts of Seoul. The KF-X is to enter service in 2026 at the earliest. Korea Times photo by Lee Han-ho. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

SACHEON, Nov 13, 2019, The Korea Times. A joint fighter jet development project between South Korea and Indonesia, widely known as the KF-X or Korean Fighter eXperimental aircraft project, has a great potential in the Southeast Asian market with its low price, The Korea Times reported.

The KF-X fighter jet is a 4.5-generation fighter jet whose “stealth” technologies fall behind those of fifth-generation fighters like the U.S.’ F-35s or F-22s. The KF-X, however, has a great price advantage with 65 percent of its parts localized.

The project is going smoothly, an official with the Korean Aerospace Industries said Tuesday, during a presentation of the project review for reporters visiting the company headquarters in Sacheon, South Gyeongsang Province. The South Korean government contracted the KAI in December 2015 to complete the development of KF-X by 2028.

If successfully developed, the KF-X would be a platform targeting the Southeast Asian markets, industry watchers say, as the operating expenses for a KF-X jet are around half of those of the U.S. F-35A.

The KF-X project is the biggest project since the foundation of the South Korean military with its total budget being about 8.8 trillion won ($7.56 billion). The South Korean and Indonesian governments cover 60 percent and 20 percent of the budget, respectively, while South Korean defense companies make 20 percent of contribution.

The 14-year project that began in 2015 is divided into two phases, with the systems development for the basic flight performance and air-to-air combat capability to be completed by 2016, followed by additional armaments for air-to-surface combat capabilities by 2028.

With the critical design review for the KF-X conducted September this year, following the preliminary design review in June 2018, the first KF-X fighter jet prototype is set to be rolled out in the first half of 2021. The first test flight will be conducted a year later. After 2,100 test flights set to be completed by the first half of 2026, the KAI will produce six of the first KF-X fighter jets that year.

The South Korean government unveiled a full-sized mock-up of the KF-X during the International Aerospace and Defense Exhibition (ADEX), the country’s biennial defense exhibition held Oct. 15 to 20.

A KF-X jet is 11.2 meters wide and 16.9 meters long, with the height being 4.6 meters. As a twin-engine aircraft deploying stealth technologies, the KF-X fighter’s look is similar to that of the U.S. F-22 Raptor.

Each engine of a KF-X develops a maximum thrust of 22,000 pounds, with the aircraft’s total maximum thrust being 44,000 pounds. The jet has a max take-off weight of 25,600 kilograms and can fly as fast as Mach 1.8. It has a cruising distance of 2,900 kilometers.

Its maximum payload of 7,700 kilograms, in particular, enables multiple weapons to be armed in its 10 pods for missiles and fuel barrels.

For missiles loaded in the KF-X fighter jet, the project has also engaged the European market.

The South Korean government had initially negotiated with the U.S. side to load U.S. air-to-air missiles such as AIM-120C advanced medium range missiles called AMRAAM or AIM-9X Sidewinder. But the U.S. government said it could not offer the armament technologies before South Korea rolls out the first KF-X jet prototype. The South Korean government, accordingly, decided to integrate missiles produced in Europe.

They include Germany’s IRIS-T short-range guided air-to-air missiles to be mounted on respective wingtip launchers, the U.K.’s Meteor long-range air-to-air missiles.

The KF-X jet would deploy domestic missiles for air-to-surface combat, including the Korean BLU-109 LJDAM (laser joint direct attack munition), KGGB (Korea GPS guided bomb) and the country’s own air-launched long-range bunker buster cruise missile developed by LIG Nex1, modeled after the Taurus KEPD 350 long-range precision-guided cruise missile.

Core equipment of the KF-X jet have been developed with domestic technologies, including AESA (active electronically scanned arrays) radar, IRST (infrared search and track) equipment, EO TGP (electro-optical target tracking) devices and EW (electronic warfare) suite.

The deployment of AESA in the fighter jet, in particular, is the first such attempt by the South Korean military, which has been using it for its domestic medium-range surface-to-air Chungoong missile and search radar for the Navy’s next-generation frigate.

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