Korea Aerospace Industries to Roll Out Prototype of KF-X Fighter Next Month

The South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA, Bang-wi Saeop-cheong) reported that, the Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) will showcase a prototype of its KF-X indigenous fighter jet prototype in April. Leading the 8.8 trillion-won (US$7.9 billion) project is KAI, the country’s sole aircraft manufacturer. The planned rollout event will be a “landmark moment” for the country and the aerospace industry. After working only with the blueprint so far, South Korea will now have something the Defense Acquisition Program Administration can actually see and test whether what they have been studying actually works. South Korea has been working on the next-generation fighter development project since late 2015 to replace the Air Force’s aging fleet of F-4 and F-5 jets.

The assembly of the first prototype began in September 2020 by KAI which is the project lead under guidance of the Defense Acquisition Program Administration. A photograph released by the DAPA shows the jet in fully assembled form and undergoing what looks like final touches. The canopy, cockpit and fuselage have been assembled. The prototype jet is currently painted in yellow-green color. It will be coated in dark gray prior to its showcase event in April. KAI wants to complete the construction of three prototypes by the end of this year, and wrap up assembling another three by mid-2022. Separately, two additional copies will be made for ground tests to examine the fighter jet’s durability. All of the trial jets were designed slightly differently to conduct various tests before its official release. Some are single seated, while others are for tandem.

This photo shows a prototype of South Korea’s first indigenous fighter jet, the KF-X, at a Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) plant in the southeastern city of Sacheon on Feb. 24, 2021. (Photo by South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration)

The KAI KF-X is a joint South Korean and Indonesian 5th-generation fighter aircraft development program with the goal of producing an advanced multirole fighter for the South Korean and Indonesian air forces. The program is led by South Korea, which holds 80% of shares. 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. In December 2020, a report showed that Indonesia was likely to pull out of the project, while another stated that South Korea and Indonesia plan to move forward the KFX/IFX project. South Korea expects to deploy 120 of the aircraft into service by 2032.

While KAI was the primary builder, numerous other domestic and foreign companies were contracted to provide aircraft components or support. Several of these firms had worked with KAI on the T-50. For certain sensitive technologies, foreign companies only consulted for testing support in order to avoid arms-trading restrictions. The company will also support flight testing and build an extensive support system for the aircraft’s operations. The AESA radar would be a particular challenge; it was developed by Hanwha Systems with assistance from other domestic firms and support from foreign companies. Elta Systems helped to test the prototype AESA, and Saab worked with LIG Nex1 on software development and evaluation. MBDA was contracted to integrate the missile (Meteor beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM)) onto the aircraft.

Workers of the Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) assemble a prototype of South Korea’s first indigenous fighter jet KF-X at its plant in the southeastern city of Sacheon on Feb. 24, 2021. (Photo by South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration)