Yonhap News Agency reported that South Korea began assembling a prototype of what would be the country’s first indigenously developed fighter jet Thursday, in a landmark step that means the ambitious project is materializing. Following the design confirmation last year, Korea Aerospace Industries Co. (KAI) got down to the final assembly of a prototype jet at its assembly line in Sacheon, 440 kilometers south of Seoul, according to the Korean Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA).Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) is the country’s sole aircraft manufacturer and is in charge of the KF-X project. Under the KF-X project worth 8.8 trillion won (US$7.3 billion), South Korea has been working since late 2015 to develop a home-grown, cutting-edge fighter aircraft to replace the Air Force’s aging fleet of F-4 and F-5 jets.
The prototype is expected to be ready in the first half of 2021, and the agency is eyeing 2026 for the completion of development after ground and flight tests, Last month, the south korean state-run Agency for Defense Development (ADD) produced a prototype of an advanced active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar system as a key part of the envisioned combat jet. With a maximum payload of 7,700 kilograms, the fighter is capable of installing 10 pods for missiles and fuel barrels. It will be able to carry several types of air-to-air missiles, such as Germany’s IRIS-T and European developer MBDA’s active radar guided Meteor missiles, it added. The aircraft is designed to be able to fly at a maximum speed of Mach 1.81, with its flying range reaching 2,900 kilometers. It bears outward similarities to the fifth-generation F-35A, according to the KAI.
The KAI KF-X is a joint South Korean aircraft development program with the goal of producing an advanced multirole fighter for the South Korean and Indonesian air forces. The program is lead by South Korea, which holds 80% of shares. Indonesia joined in 2010 for 20%, and the remainder is held by private partners including manufacturer Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI). The KAI KF-X is South Korea’s second domestic fighter jet development program, following the FA-50. The KF-X development program is also known as Boramae (Korean for “hawk”), and in Indonesia is sometimes referred to as IF-X. As of September 2019, prototypes are under construction with the first of these expected to be completed by mid-2021. The first test flight is anticipated in 2022, with manufacturing scheduled to begin in 2026. South Korea expects to deploy 120 of the aircraft into service by 2032.
South Korea possessed 63% of the necessary technology to produce the KF-X, and sought cooperation from other countries. To facilitate a technology transfer, the Agency for Defense Development (ADD) proposed two primary concepts for the KF-X: C103, which resembled the F-35; and C203, which resembled European fighters with forward canards (the design chosen would depend on whether a development deal was reached with the US or European partners). The C501 (a.k.a. KFX-E) was a third design, proposed by KAI and supported by the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA), which attempted to reduce costs with a smaller, single-engine fighter, but it had inferior performance to the F-16 and was unsuitable for the large airspace of Indonesia.