South Korea has reportedly started the assembly of the first prototype of its Korean Fighter Experimental (KF-X) multirole fighter jet.

Yonhap News Agency reported that the country’s arms procurement agency, Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA), as saying that this is a major milestone in the project.

The KF-X project is valued at KRW8.8tn ($7.3bn). DAPA selected Korea Aerospace Industries (KIA) to carry out the KF-X domestic project.

KAI, which was selected as the preferred bidder for the project in 2015, started the assembly following the confirmation of the design.

The assembly is being carried out at its Sacheon assembly line.

The first KF-X prototype is scheduled for launch next year while first production aircraft is expected to be delivered in 2026.

The new fighter jets are expected to replace the Republic of Korea Air Force’s (ROKAF) ageing fleet of F-4D/E Phantom II and F-5E/F Tiger II fighters.

Last month, South Korea developed a prototype of the advanced active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar system for KF-X.

In October last year, KF-X/IF-X advanced multirole fighter aircraft under development for the airforces of the Republic of Korea and Indonesia completed a critical design review (CDR) of power and controls systems.

In 2016, the Indonesian Defence Ministry signed an agreement with KIA to jointly develop the KF-X domestic fighter jets.

KF-X is designed to fly at a maximum speed of Mach 1.81 and its flying range can touch 2,900km.

According to KAI, the jet will have a maximum payload of 7,700kg and will be able to accommodate ten pods for missiles and fuel barrels.

Additionally, it will be able to carry many types of air-to-air missiles.