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 Republic of Korea Air Force huge KF-16 upgrade deal is back on track. After having a quarrel with BAe Systems, the upgrade now landed – as expected – with Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman.
The US Congress has already been informed by the US State Department of this new proposed Foreign Military Sale that will make 134 KF-16C/Ds better than ever before. The modifications include a new Modular Mission Computer, Active Electronically Scanned Array Radars (AESA), an AN/APX-125 or equivalent Advanced Identification Friend or Foe (AIFF) System, an Embedded Global Positioning System/Inertial Navigation Systems, Upgraded Radar Warning Receivers (RWR) and AN/ALQ-213 EW Management Units.
Moreover the RoKAF is getting 3 Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS) II Group C Helmets, five GBU-54 Laser Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM), some weapon practice equipment, guidance units, spare parts, training and some other stuff for 2.5 billion dollar.
Work will primarily be done by Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth, Texas, and Northrop Grumman Corporation in Falls Church, Virginia. Negotiations are not entirely over, however, as Seoul is asking for US orders for its industry (offsets) in return.
South Korea has opted for the Airbus A330 MRTT as the future tanker aircraft for the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF). Seoul announced the decision on Tuesday, ending a close competition between Airbus, Boeing and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI). The ROKAF should welcome the first of four tanker aircraft in 2018.
The deal is worth an estimated 1.07 billion USD and supplies South Korea with its very own tanker dedicated aircraft. The tankers will act as flying gas stations for South Korea’s fleet of F-4, F-15 and F-16 fighter aircraft, plus future F-35s.
The Boeing KC-46 Pegasus, based on the Boeing 767-200, is currently being developed by Boeing. The first flight with the air to air refueling boom attached took place recently, but many more tests are to take place before the KC-46 is ready to replace large numbers of KC-135s in US service.
IAI was offering a modified version of the Boeing 767. Colombia and Brazil in the past chose this Israeli option.
The South Korean airbase of Cheongju for the next two weeks is the stage of a large Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) biannual exercise called Soaring Eagle. Taking part is the old and the ROKAF stuff, from nearly obsolete F-4E Phantoms to new indigenous Korea Aerospace Industries FA-50 Golden Hawks.
In the ROKAF’s words, the aim of the large-scale aerial exercise aims is to boost capabilities of blocking enemies’ surprise infiltration and destroying key military assets – in other words, to block any effort of South Korea’s northern neighbour. The air force also wants to evaluate and improve the strategic and light attack combat capabilities of the FA-50. Two Golden Hawks take part in the exercise.
Cheongju, visited by Airheadsfly.com editors in 2004, is located about 140 kilometers south of Seoul. The airbase is home to South Korea’s remaining F-4E Phantoms, and also provides ’Top Gun’ training for fighter pilots.
Next to FA-50s and F-4Es, also taking part in Soaring Eagle are F-5E, F-15K and KF-16 fighters. In total, forty aircraft are involved, as well as 320 personnel.
The decision on which manufacturer may deliver four in-flight refuelling aircraft to the Republic of Korea Air Force (RoKAF) will not be taken this year, according to South Korean media including The Korea Herald.
While negotiations have been going on ever since March, there is yet no final deal in sight on the detailed price arrangements since none of the three bidders seems to meet industrial compensation that Korea wants. Those so-called offset agreements might mean work for Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) or other partners, or sharing of (some) technology with more business in mind.
The three competitors for the quartet of RoKAF tankers are the Airbus A330 MRTT (called KC-30A by the Royal Australian Air Force and Voyager by the RAF), the Boeing KC-46 Pegasus and the Israel Aircraft Industries which offers refurbished second hand aircraft. If Seoul chooses either Boeing or IAI the Koreans will get a tanker based on the 767 airliner.
Leaving politics out and focusing only on the technical and operational side of things Airbus in theory has the best cards on the table, with the A330 MRTT already in the air with the Royal Air Force, Royal Australian Air Force, the United Arab Emirates Air Force, the Royal Saudi Air Force and ordered by the air forces of Singapore, Qatar, France and wanted by India and Spain as well.
The Boeing KC-46A is still in the construction phase with loads of possible problems during the development still ahead. However, with the US armed forces co-operating closely with the South Korean defence, the politics might be critical in the decision. The US Air Force said earlier this November it “still expects Boeing to meet the August 2017 target for delivering 18 new KC-46As” out of an expected total purchase plan of 179 aircraft. When these statements are made most of the time it means delays in the program with the buyer adding pressure to the seller, while seeming confident that everything will be okay.
The IAI solution will be the most economical one, as the second hand 767 solution of the Israelis will be about half the price of a new aircraft. Time will tell which business the South Korean leadership has in mind.