South Korea announced it would be showcasing the prototype of the country’s first indigenously developed fighter jet in April. The aerospace and defense company Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) would introduce the Korean Fighter eXperimental (KF-X) prototype. As stated by Jung Kwang-Sun, director of the KF-X Program at the Defense Acquisition Program Administration, the prototype unveiling would be a milestone for the aerospace industry and South Korea.
Since 2015, the country has been developing the next-generation fighter jet, with plans to equip it with locally developed avionics. At KAI’s Sacheon headquarters, engineers are in the final stages of assembling six prototypes, finalizing the 2ndand 3rd models. Additionally, the aerospace company is set to finish assembling the 4th, 5th, and 6th prototypes in 2022.
The KF-X project targets to supersede the South Korean Air Force’s F-4 and F-5E/F fighter jets. In June 2020, GE Aviation supplied KAI with the engine for KF-X, an F414-GE-400K. Along with a 7,700-kilogram carrying capacity, the KF-X has 10 air-to-air missile pods and a 2,900-kilometer flight range.
South Korea’s KF-X
“After working only with the blueprint so far, we will now have something we can see and test whether what we have been studying actually works,” said Jung. KAI will conduct the first test flights by 2022 and complete the entire model’s development by 2026. After finishing the development, KAI would supply 40 KF-X units to the Republic of Korea Air Force by 2028 and an additional 80 units by 2032.
“Our assessment before launching this project was that we could export some 300 to 500 jets abroad,” added Jung. Moreover, officials aim to launch the KF-X jet in the global aircraft market, competing against fifth-generation fighter aircraft.
According to KAI, its engineers designed the trial model as a 4.5-generation fighter plane. However, engineers also equipped the KF-X with hardware that could be converted into a fifth-generation aircraft with added features. The KF-X Program’s director also announced they partnered with the military in applying stealth technologies to the fighter plane.
Since officials have not yet disclosed the model’s target cost, they will determine when the mass production starts. Based on KAI’s data, the indigenous fighter jet project created over 2,500 jobs in the last year alone. KAI’s CEO Ahn Hyun-Ho expects the project to boost South Korea’s self-reliant national defense technologies. Furthermore, Korea Air Force’s Chief of Staff General Lee Seong-Yong would visit KAI to inspect the KF-X’s progress.
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