The South Korean KF-X program is in trouble because of a US ‘no’ over technology transfer concering several key elements of the design. The US move is a surprise for the Koreans after their ‘yes’ to the purchase of forty Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II aircraf last year. Seoul has started a probe into the proceeding.
South Korea is willing to spend close to 15 billion USD on the indigenous KF-X fighter jet, a program that should result in a fighter aircraft that should serve alongside the F-35s ordered and F-15Ks already in service. A total of 120 aircraft is said to be on the cards for the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF).
With Washington’s refusal to hand over key technologies, it seems the program suffers a severe setback at an early stage. The goal was to have the KF-X ready to fly in 2025.
The South Korean Ministry of Defence has given Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI) a green light to go ahead with its development of the next-generation fighter jet for the Republic of Korea Air Force (RoKAF).
The KF-X – as the project is called – aims to provide the Asian nation with at least 120 new modern combat jets. Together with the F-35 they will have to replace the aging fleets of McDonnell Douglas F-4s and Northrop F-5s of the RoKAF, and they will eventually take over the essential role of Korea’s Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcons.
Starting in 2025 the KF-X is expected to slowly enter service. The initial budget for the development has been put on US$ 7.8 billion, with more than 8 billion dollars reserved for initial production.
To get the bid KAI teamed up with Lockheed Martin, with whom it has cooperated as well on the successful T-50 advanced training jet and F-50 light fighter/attack aircraft. The partners beat the Korean Air Lines/Airbus team.
What the KF-X will look like is still uncertain. There are several designs on the drawing board, including a version with canards near the cockpit and with both single and double engines. Lockheed Martin prefers a single engine concept, because it is cheaper to develop and easier to design.
The development of a KIA/Lockheed Martin aircraft takes place next to the planned introduction of 40 Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II aircraft into RoKAF service, with the first of these stealthy combat jets planned to arrive in 2018 or 2019. The deal was announced in September, after Seoul ditched the earlier selection of 60 newly developed Boeing F-15SE Silent Eagles. A public revolt of former Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) generals pushed the Seoul government in the direction of the Lightning.