First KF-X prototype nearly completed ahead of April rollout

KF-X Combat Aircraft

Assembly of the first prototype of South Korea’s first indigenous Korean Fighter eXperimental (KF-X) combat aircraft is nearly completed and scheduled for rollout in April, the Defense Acquisition Programme Administration (DAPA) announced on 1 March.

KF-X prime contractor Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) is building six prototypes – comprising four single seat and two tandem-seat variants – at its aircraft manufacturing facility in Sacheon.

Images released by DAPA show the first prototype, KF-X 001, has already been fitted with the General Electric F414-GE-400K engines. According to local media, the aircraft features 7,000 structural components, 450 kilometres of electrical wiring, and over 220,000 fastening rivets and bolts. It be painted in dark grey prior to the rollout event, with first flight expected in 2022.

The company is also expecting to complete construction of the second and third prototypes by the end of 2021 and the remaining three by the first half of 2022, with the fourth and sixth prototypes reportedly tandem-seat variants.

The latest update on the KF-X programme comes after the active electronically scanned-array (AESA) radar prototype being developed for the aircraft by the Agency for Defense Development (ADD) and Hanwha Systems was unveiled in August 2020.

The KRW10 trillion (US$8.9 billion) KF-X programme centres on a replacement for the Republic of Korea Air Force’s (RoKAF’s) ageing fleet of F-4D/E Phantom II and F-5E/F Tiger II combat aircraft and development work is expected to conclude by 2026 to pave the way for production.

According to Yonhap News, the RoKAF will acquire 40 units by 2028 and another 80 units by 2032 at a total estimated production cost of 10 trillion won (US$8.9 billion). Development costs alone are expected to reach US$7.8 billion, making the entire programme the most expensive defence programme in South Korean history.

Indonesia is funding around 20 percent of the development with the aim of acquiring 50 production aircraft and associated technology transfer, but its commitment to the effort has been questioned following delayed payments.

In mid-February senior Indonesian defence ministry and air force officials revealed an interest to acquire 36 Dassault Rafale and eight Boeing F-15EX combat aircraft for the Indonesian Air Force, prompting DAPA to publicly clarify that this would not impact Jakarta’s commitment to the KF-X development.

by Jr Ng