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Role Multirole fighter
Manufacturer Korea Aerospace Industries
Indonesian Aerospace
Designer Agency for Defense Development
Korea Aerospace Industries
Introduction 2025 (planned)
Status In development[1]

The Korea Aerospace Industries KF-X/Indonesian Aerospace IF-X is a South Korean and Indonesian program to develop an advanced multirole fighter for the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) and Indonesian Air Force (TNI-AU), spearheaded by South Korea with Indonesia as the primary partner.[2] It is South Korea's second fighter development program following the FA-50.

The project was first announced by South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung at the graduation ceremony of the Korea Air Force Academy in March 2001. South Korea and Indonesia agreed to cooperate in the production of KF-X/IF-X warplanes in Seoul on July 15, 2010.[3] The initial operational requirements for the KF-X/IF-X program as stated by the ADD (Agency for Defence Development) were to develop a single-seat, twin-engine jet with stealth capabilities beyond either the Dassault Rafale or Eurofighter Typhoon, but still less than the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II. The overall focus of the program is producing a 4.5th generation fighter with higher capabilities than a KF-16 class fighter by 2020.[4][5][6] Quantities of the resulting fighter are planned at 120 for the ROK Air Force and 80 for the Indonesian Air Force.[7] South Korea plans to procure it from 2023 to 2030.[1]

Design and development[edit]

According to the Weapon Systems Concept Development and Application Research Center of Konkuk University, the KF-X is intended to be superior to the KF-16, replacing South Korea's aging F-4D/E Phantom II and F-5E/F Tiger II aircraft, with production numbers estimated to be over 250 aircraft. Compared to KF-16, the KF-X will have a 50% greater combat radius, 34% longer airframe lifespan, better avionics including a domestically produced AESA radar, and better electronic warfare, IRST, and datalink capabilities. Operational requirements also specify approx 50,000 pounds of thrust provided by one or preferably two engines, high-speed interception and supercruise capabilities, basic stealth technology, and multirole capabilities. There are currently two competing designs for the KFX, the KFX-201 which has a three-surface layout with canards and a more conventional, Single Engine F-35 style KFX-101 design.

South Korea will fund 60% of the aircraft's development, and expects foreign partners to provide the remaining 40% of the development funding.[8] South Korea possesses 63% of the necessary technology to produce the KF-X, and is therefore seeking cooperation from Indonesian Aerospace, Turkish Aerospace Industries, Saab, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin to develop the KF-X. About 120 KF-Xs would be built initially and more than 130 aircraft would be produced additionally after the first-phase models reach operational capability.[9] The cost of each KF-X aircraft is estimated to be roughly $50 million +.[10][11]

In October 2009 a retired ROKAF general was arrested for leaking classified documents to Saab. The general was to have been given a bribe of several hundred thousand dollars for copies of a number of secret documents that he had photographed in the South Korean Defence University. Saab officials denied any involvement.[12][13][14]

On 15 July 2010, the Indonesian government agreed to fund 20% of KF-X project cost in return of around 50 planes built for the TNI-AU after project completion.[15] In September 2010, Indonesia sent a team of legal and aviation experts to South Korea to discuss copyright issues of the aircraft.[16]

On 7 September 2010, Maj. Gen. Choi Cha-kyu, director general of the aircraft program bureau at the Korean Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) said that Turkey was interested in joining the program.[9][17] On 15 December 2010, a senior Turkish procurement official said that "What we need is a true and equal partnership for the development of a fighter. The problem is that South Korea is not likely to agree to an equal partnership".[18]

In December 2010 the program shifted from a F-16 class fighter to a stealth aircraft in order to respond to North Korean pressure.[19]

On 20 April 2011, South Korea's Defense Acquisition Programme Administration (DAPA) confirmed the signing of a definitive agreement between South Korea and Indonesia to jointly develop the Korean KF-X next-generation fighter aircraft.[20]

On 2 August 2011, a joint research center was opened in Daejeon.[21][22]

In a public meeting the Korean Institute for Defense Analysis revealed the development would cost more than 10 trillion won. Over the lifetime of the program the KF-X would cost more than twice as much as an imported aircraft. The institute openly questions whether the U.S. will be willing to help. Similarly in 2007, the Korean Development Institute reported that the KF-X was not viable. Lee Daeyearl, KF-X program director at the Agency for Defense Development, said the fighter would cost 6 trillion won in development, 8 trillion in production, and 9 trillion for operation over 30 years.[23]

The Agency for Defense Development has prepared two series of designs, one for an aircraft with aft horizontal stabilizers, and with a canard stabilizer. The aft-tail series has run through the iterations C101, C102, and C103, all with two engines and a single seat. The C102 design was further broken down into three variants: C102E with one engine, C102I with internal weapons and C102T with two seats. Similarly, the canard series had the iterations C201, C202 (also with variants E, I and T) and the current C203 follow the same pattern. The agency proposes that either C103 or C203, whichever was chosen, would then advance through three design standards. Block 1 would be "reduced observable," which would be equivalent to the B-1B, Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and Eurofighter Typhoon. Block 1 would rely on fuselage and inlet shaping, edge alignment, radar-absorbing material, and semiconformal weapons carriage for reducing signature. Block 2 would carry internal weapons, have conformal antennas, and sensors would be "integrated". There would be minimal gaps and additional radarabsorbing coating on the canopy, and the structure of the aircraft. It would be as stealthy as the F-117. Block 3 would advance the aircraft to the level of the B-2, F-22 and F-35, but no details are given. All of this is a step beyond the previous concept. The aircraft is expected to be between the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon and the McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle in size. The C103 design with two engines of 18,000 lb. thrust each. According to a 2009 external review of the program, the empty mass of the KF-X should be 10.4 metric tons.[23]

A decision on the selection of either design lines was expected to be made in 2013.[24] However Indonesian Defense Ministry spokesman Pos Hutabarat announced a year and a half suspension of the project in 2013. This delay was said to be caused by uneasiness in the new South Korean government over the expense of the program.[25]

On 23 May 2013, EADS stated that if South Korea selected its Eurofighter Typhoon as the winner of the F-X Phase 3 fighter program, they would invest $2 billion into the KF-X program.[26] The F-35A was selected in November 2013 with 40 planned and the possibility of a split buy for 20 other fighters. EADS has offered a split buy option for 40 Eurofighters and 20 Lightning IIs, and will keep the offer to provide funding to the KF-X program if the Eurofighter is bought.[27]

In July 2013, the Indonesian government announced it intends to continue development of the KF-X. Indonesian Aerospace is getting ready to undertake the second stage of the aircraft's development.[28]

In October 2013 at the Seoul International Aerospace & Defense Exhibition, two concept models for the KF-X fighter were displayed. KAI's model, the KFX-E, was designed by the company as a single-engine aircraft with most systems developed for the T-50 trainer and no internal weapons bays. Experience from the T-50, and support provided by Lockheed for that aircraft, was seen as a cost-effective approach, as KAI officials saw a smaller and cheaper proposal to finally get the program to launch and enter service around the mid-2020s. There are two versions of the KFX-E available, the standard one with a single fin and an optional one with two that would require more development work but has less radar reflection. Although the KFX-E was smaller than the F-35 Lightning II, it was heavier than both the T-50 and F-16, with a 14 percent higher internal fuel capacity than the F-16C Block 40 at 6.36 tons. Its larger wing compared to the F-16 would produce more drag and make it accelerate slower. The other model was designed by Seoul's Agency for Defense Development, who became a competitor to KAI when they judged the ADD design for a twin-engine plane requiring more domestic systems development as too ambitious. There are actually two ADD proposals, the C103 and C203, both weighing 11 tons empty. They propose initially fielding a low-observable aircraft, then later versions would have full stealth and internal weapons bays. The ADD designs have the advantage of being worked on with Indonesia, the main foreign partner. The C103 and KFX-E have similar tail-aft sections, while the C203 has forward horizontal stabilizers.[7][29]

In September 2015, the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) said U.S. has refused to grant export license for key technologies for the program, including Active Scanned Electronic Array (AESA) radar, Infra-red Search and Tracking (IRST) system, Electro-Optical tracking system and next generation radio frequency jammers for indigenous production, delaying the development until at least 2025.[30] The two countries agreed to set up "a working group for technology cooperation on the defense industry" instead.[31]

KF-X competition[edit]

Empty weight 9.3 metric tons (20,500 lb) 10.9 metric tons (24,000 lb)
Max weight 20.9 metric tons (46,000 lb) 24 metric tons (53,000 lb)
Internal fuel 3.6 metric tons (8,000 lb) 5.4 metric tons (12,000 lb)
Wingspan 9.8 meters (32 ft) 10.7 meters (35.2 ft)
Length 15.2 meters (50 ft) 15.7 meters (51.3 ft)
Wing area 37.1 square meters (400 square ft) 42.7 square meters (460 square ft)
Engine 1 X P&W F100 or GE F110 2 X EJ200 or GE F414
Hardpoints 9 10
Weapons bay None Space provided

On 5 January 2014, DAPA announced the approval of development of the KF-X after nearly a decade of attempts with the allocation of 20 billion won (US $19 million). With the start of development, the feasibility of designs and specifications began to be reviewed. The ADD concepts include the F-35-style C103 and the European-style C203 with canards in a stealth frame; both would be powered by minimum of two 20,000 lb (9,100 kg) engines. ADD claims an aircraft larger than the KF-16 has more room for upgrades; a KF-X Block 2 would have internal weapons bays, and a Block 3 would have true stealth comparable to the F-35 or B-2. The Air Force prefers a twin-engine fighter for safety and range. KAI's offering has been dubbed the C501, a concept with a single 29,000 lb (13,000 kg) engine based on the FA-50 with low-observable features and advanced avionics. The C501 is modeled for affordability and performance based on available technologies. Lockheed, who co-designed the T-50 jet trainer, supports the single-engine concept for being cheaper and quicker to develop than a clean-sheet aircraft, but says it will support whichever decision is made. The Korea Institute for Defense Analyses (KIDA) also supports KAI, believing South Korea is not yet ready or able to compete with fighters made by U.S. or European companies; they expect the development cost of the program will be at least 10 trillion won ($927 million).[1]

Bidding by manufacturers for the KF-X was to begin in April 2014. The desire to domestically develop a fighter is driven in part by the intention to export it to foreign buyers, something the country could not do with American-built aircraft. The design of the fighter was still not decided upon, with the ADD proposing the twin-engine clean-sheet C103, and DAPA favoring the single-engine C501 largely derived from technology from the FA-50. The ROK Air Force is interested in a twin-engine aircraft that, although more expensive, has a larger payload capacity, longer range, greater safety if an engine is lost, and better ability to incorporate future upgrades; the initial 4.5-generation C103 can be later upgraded to fifth-generation standard. Developing the C501 would result in a fourth-generation fighter that cannot replace the country's F-15 and F-16 fighter fleets in the future, and would be obsolete by the time it is planned to enter service around 2023 by advanced stealth jets fielded by South Korea's neighbors. Upsizing the FA-50 airframe into the C501 would be more expensive to redesign its aerodynamics and would lengthen development time. In November 2013, the Korea Institute of Science and Technology Evaluation and Planning (KISTEP) calculated the single-engine C501 to be cheaper and faster to develop than the C103, 6.4 trillion won over 8.5 years compared to 8.6 trillion won over 10.5 years, and cost 1 trillion won less to operate and maintain. KAI believes the smaller C501 has better export potential as a medium affordable jet aircraft, possibly to take the place of the closing American F-16 production line; using two large engines may make the KF-X too big and expensive for most of the export fighter market. The Defense Ministry would decide which type of aircraft to proceed with, and the program will be mostly government-funded with limited company financial support.[32]

Along with the final decision on 24 March 2014 to buy the Lockheed F-35 for F-X Phase 3, Seoul plans to ask Lockheed to assist in the development of the KF-X and shoulder 20 percent of the cost. The government is funding 60 percent of development, and Indonesia is taking up another 20 percent. As part of the F-35 deal, Lockheed has offered to provide "300 man-years’ worth of engineering expertise" to assist in designing the KF-X, along with more than 500,000 pages of technical documentation derived from the F-16, F-35, and F-22. Lockheed has had successful joint aircraft development with South Korea in the past; during T-50 jet trainer development, Lockheed covered 13 percent of costs, with KAI covering 17 percent, and the government taking the remaining 70 percent. However, the company is apprehensive about supporting the KF-X program as it may create a medium fighter that can be a competitor in the export marker against their own fighters.[33]

The KF-X program is being accelerated, with required operational capabilities to be confirmed by mid-July 2014, and bidding to start as early as one month later. The ADD and ROKAF appeared to have chosen a double-engine airframe for greater payload, mobility, thrust, and safety; proponents for a single-engine design maintain that it would be cheaper, more appealing for export, and that modern engine technologies make engine failure incidents rare. Efforts to accelerate the program may be to address the "air security vacuum" that would occur by 2019, when all F-4s and F-5s would be retired and leave the Air Force 100 planes short.[34] The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) met that month and officially set specifications and a schedule for the KF-X. The KF-X will be equipped with two engines to address future operational needs and keep up with neighboring countries’ aircraft development trends. Heated debates from KIDA, KAI, and the Korea Defense and Security Forum over the higher costs of developing a twin-engine fighter, the potential difficulty in selling it abroad, and that higher costs would block creation of indigenous avionics and force the adoption of foreign systems were countered by Air Force and ADD arguments that Indonesian support will lower costs during mass production, most technologies were already created independently, and that a larger aircraft has more room for upgrades. The initial design is to be a 4.5 generation fighter with a 20,000 lb (9,100 kg)+ payload, with the KF-X Block 2 having an internal weapons bay, and the Block 3 having stealth features comparable to the F-35 Lightning II or B-2 Spirit. Initial operating capability (IOC) is scheduled for 2025, two years later than previously expected.[35]

DAPA issued a request for proposals on 23 December 2014. The finance ministry approved an 8.6991 trillion won ($7.9171 billion) budget for development of the ADD KF-X design, but parliament will not authorize that spending or launch full-scale development until it votes on the government's 2016 budget in December 2015. During that time, Airbus, Boeing, and Korean Airlines are attempting to propose a cheaper alternative to the ADD fighter design and deprive Lockheed Martin of an opportunity to provide technical assistance. The team is likely to offer a version of the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet as a base design. Because the U.S. limits certain technologies that can be transferred abroad, Boeing can provide stealth and radar knowledge through the European Airbus company.[36]

On the 9 February 2015 deadline for submissions, the KAI/Lockheed Martin team submitted their bid but Korean Air and Airbus Defense failed to, the reason likely being more time needed for preparation. Since Korean law mandates at least two bidders for the auction to be valid, the deadline for a second auction was pushed to 24 February. Failure to get another bid in when required will likely delay the program's schedule. If another bid is not received by the third auction, the arms procurement agency is allowed to push forward with only one participant.[37]

On 30 March 2015 KAI/Lockheed Martin was chosen for the KF-X contract over Korean Air and Airbus Defense.[38]


General characteristics



See also[edit]

Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era


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  38. ^ http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/S_Korea_opts_for_KAI-Lockheed_in_78_bn_fighter_deal_999.html

External links[edit]