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Korean Fighter Experimental (KF-X) - Background

South Korea plans to launch the second phase of a project to introduce next-generation fighter jets for the Air Force starting in 2021 with a budget of around 4 trillion won (US$3.34 billion), the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) said 07 October 2019.

The FX / KF-X project was first proposed by President Kim Dae-jung at the graduation ceremony of the Korean Air Force Academy in 2001, where he proposed to develop state-of-the-art indigenous combat aircraft to replace the KF-16s, which were imported in the 1980s and are the main fighters in the Korean Air Force. In the KF-X program, South Korea aimed to develop and produce between 120 and 250 F-16-class fighters beginning in 2013, with technology support from foreign aerospace companies. The aircraft were to replace the Air Force's aging fleet of F-4 and F-5 fighters.

During a commencement ceremony of the ROK Air Force Academy in March 2001, President Kim Dae-jung said that Korea would develop its next-generation fighters by 2015. "Our plan includes $2.8 billion in economic benefits through the F-X offset program and it lays the foundation for long-term programs and other growth opportunities that could result in more economic benefits over the long term," said a senior Boeing executive at a news conference. He also said Boeing's plan includes a technology-transfer program focused on the development of the indigenous fighter program in South Korea. "On the indigenous fighter program, Boeing offered 29 technology-transfer projects in the four key areas of fighter development: requirements definition and analysis; airframe, avionics and armament systems; test and evaluation; and operations and support." He went on to say that the nature of Boeing's commitment points out one of the unique benefits of a partnership with Boeing, which was participation in both military and commercial programs.

As of 2008 the full-scale development of the next-generation KF-X fighter was said to be on track to begin in 2009, and reports said that South Korea was studying the feasibility of developing the fighter domestically. Boeing promised to assist Korea in developing the KFX by 2015 as part of the offset deal with the F-15K. Boeing could offer the F-15 or X-32 designs, just as Lockheed Martin offered the F-16 for the T-50.

The problem is that the KAF had no concrete concept for the KFX. In September 2005 it was reported that the Agency for Defense Development [ADD - South Korean military research institute] was is in the procress of designing models and working on concepts and shapes. These two (101, 201) models only announced to media. Video clips of wind-tunnel tests were published on the webpage. The KFX-101 model looked like an F-22 mixed with F-35, and the KFX-201 looked like a stealth version of the Rafale, which has canard and delta wing.

As of 2006 KAI (Korea Aerospace Industries) was trying to push the NSC (National Security Council) to replace the KFX with an F-50 fighter version of T/A-50, but the ROKAF sought to continue the KF-X project. Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI) would have difficulty developing the KFX at the same time as it is focused on the production of the T-50.

The KF-X aimed to produce a multi-role fifth-generation aircraft suited to network-centric warfare after 2020 to replace outdated F-4Es and F-5Es, and to market it globally. The KFX would be stealthier than either Dassault's Rafale or Eurofighter's Typhoon but not as stealthy as the Lockheed Martin-built F-35. The fighter would be designed as a single-seat, twin-engine aircraft with a total thrust of more than 40,000 pounds.

In November 2007 the Agency for Defense Development (ADD) unveiled a plan to develop the KF-X fighter in partnership with Western aircraft makers. The agency said it wanted foreign firms to pay for 30 percent of the development costs. ADD was considering forming separate consortia between domestic and foreign companies on a case-by-case basis. Several foreign defense firms, including Boeing, General Electric, Lockheed Martin, Saab and Safran, expressed interest in the KF-X program, focusing on possible technology transfer and market potential.

The Korea Development Institute (KDI) concluded in December 2007 that the KF-X program would not be affordable. The KF-X development would cost at least $10 billion but bring about only $3 billion in economic benefits, making the economics of the aircraft unsustainable.

As of mid-2008 the Air Force planned to begin to acquire fifth-generation stealth jets under a KRW 5 trillion program in 2011, aiming to deploy them between 2014 and 2019, according to an Air Force report submitted to the Defense Committee of the National Assembly on October 24, 2007.

Italy, Sweden, and The United Kingdom are expected to participate in the development of the next generation Korean fighter (KF-X). Dr. Lee Dae-yeol, Project Director of the Aeronautical System Development Center under the Agency for Defense Development, discussed the development state and outlook for KF-X at the 10th International Conference on Air Power in the Air Force Hall in Daebang-dong, Seoul on November 15, 2007. He said in his statement that a joint-development of the Korean Fighter Program is under discussion in a bid to cut back on the development cost and facilitate overseas sales. It is the first time that ADD officially disclosed the direction of the KF-X program.

Participant hopefuls include British Aerospace Systems for radar, Italy's Alenia for armament, and France's EADS for key technologies. In addition, Swedish SAAB, French engine company SNECMA, American GE and Boeing are undergoing an internal review of the feasibility of the program, Dr. Lee reported. Dr. Lee said, "Korea is aiming to draw 30 percent of the total development spending from overseas investors. We are examining whether to form a consortium of businesses from home and abroad for each field."

KF-X, the fifth-generation stealth fighter, will be designed to launch network-centric warfare (NCW) which fuses and integrates data from land, air and sea. Currently, few fighters except for America's F-22 and F-35 are capable of NCW. "KF-X is intended to operate for more than 20 years after 2020. By 2030, KF-X, F-15K, A-50 and the UCAV (Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle) will be the major fighter planes employed by the Korean Air Force," Dr. Lee predicted.

"KF-X will be equipped with domestic precision-guided bombs, air-to-ground and air-ship guided weapons as well as short-range air-to-air guided arms. The integrated tactical aircraft system, electronic flight control system and stealth technologies, which are crucial fighter technologies, will be acquired either through offset trade or domestic development," he added. The Korean Air Force will establish a KF-X development agency in 2008, according to reports.

The government's Basic Plan for Development of the Aeronautics Industry finalized on January 21, 2010 includes the system development of two projects [the KF-X fighter and the Korea Attack Helicopter (KAH)], to be finally decided following the re-appraisal of the feasibility based on the two-year search development from 2011. The KFX Project, which is included in the mid-term (2010-2014) defense plan, is intended to secure medium-class, multi-purpose fighters (KF-16+) through R&D on domestic technology in connection with the need to replace aging F-4s/5s. The plan was approved by an ad hoc committee of the Ministry of Knowledge and Economy.

Preliminary development for the KF-X was to be conducted between 2011 and 2012 with an investment of 4.4 billion won, and full-scale workwill continue until 2021 at a cost of 5 trillion won. Korea will foot 60 percent of KF-X development costs and will rely on foreign firms to cover the remainder. Among potential foreign bidders for the KF-X effort are Boeing and Eurofighter. Boeing is offering to transfer F/A-18 Super Hornet aircraft technology to help build the KF-X, while Eurofighter wants Korea to join its Eurofighter Typhoon program.

The KF-X had originally aimed to produce and market about 120 aircraft stealthier than Dassault's Rafale and the Eurofighter Typhoon but not as covert as Lockheed Martin's F-35 Lightening II. The developers acknowledged that South Korea could not build a fully stealthy aircraft. Facing technical and budgetary difficulties, by 2009-2010 the required operational capability for the KF-X was lowered to that similar to the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and Eurofighter Typhoon. That radar cross-section is in the range of 0.1-1 sq. meters (1.07-10.07 sq. ft.), compared with 1-10 sq. meters for old F-4 Phantom and F-5 Tiger fighters in South Korean service. Block 2 would have more stealth coatings, radar-absorbing structural materials, tighter control of gaps, “integrated” (presumably flush) aerials, and an internal weapons bay. It would be as stealthy as an F-117. Further improvements could advance Block 3 to the level of the F-35.

After at least a decade of studies, by early 2013 the design of the KF-X fighter was clearer. If not heavily revised, it would be a twin-engine fighter about the size of the Eurofighter Typhoon. Available engines have afterburning thrust of 17,700 lb. (from the General Electric F404), 20,200 lb. (from Eurojet EJ200) or 22,000 lb. (from GE F414). The aircraft would have conventional aft stabilizers [concept Design C103], if a US company helps develop it; and forward stabilizers [Design C203] if a European partner is chosen. The Block 2 version would feature an internal weapons bay, while the Block 1 variant would mount four Raytheon AIM-120 air-to-air missiles in recesses under the fuselage. Six more hard points for weapons and other stores are on the wing.

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Page last modified: 12-10-2019 17:42:14 ZULU