The KF-X (Korean Fighter-eXperimental) is a 4.5th generation multi-role fighter aircraft being developed by Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI) for the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) and Indonesian Air Force (TNI-AU).
The maiden flight of the KF-X fighter is expected in 2022, while the first aircraft is scheduled to enter service by 2025. The KF-X aircraft will replace the ROKAF’s ageing fleet of F-4 and F-5 fighters.
Serial production of the aircraft is expected to start in 2023 and the first production aircraft is scheduled to be delivered to the ROAKF in 2025. KAI is anticipated to produce 120 fighters by 2032.
KF-X aircraft development
The South Korean Government selected KAI along with its partner Lockheed Martin as the preferred bidder to develop the KF-X 4.5th generation fighter in March 2015. KAI received a contract from the Defence Acquisition Programme Administration (DAPA) for the development of the KF-X fighter in December 2015.
KAI made a provisional agreement with the Indonesian Government and PTDI for the joint development of the KF-X programme in November 2015. A final joint development agreement between the Indonesian Government and KAI was reached in January 2016. Indonesia will share 20% of the development costs, under the agreement.
The wind tunnel testing on a 1/13 scaled down model to develop the shape of the KF-X’s fuselage began at the test laboratory of the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) in June 2016.
KAI plans to complete the preliminary design review (PDR) by 2018, while the critical design review (CDR) is expected to conclude in 2019. The first KF-X prototype is scheduled for launch in 2021.
The KF-X programme is estimated to incur an investment of more than $7.7bn, which is being contributed by the Korean Government (60%) and Indonesian Government (20%), as well as KAI and its partners (20%).
Cockpit and avionics
The single-seat and tandem-seat cockpit configurations of the KF-X fighter will be fitted with bird-strike resistant canopy and windshields supplied by Texstars.
The fighter will be equipped with Elta Systems active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, an infrared search and track (IRST) system, an electro-optical (E/O) targeting system (EOTS), and a radio frequency (RF) jammer.
Armament aboard Korea’s next-generation fighter
The KF-X fighter will be installed with Cobham air-to-air missile eject launcher (MEL) for the carriage and launch of air-to-air missiles.
The MEL will allow the carriage of weapons on store stations within bomb bays, conformal stations and traditional wing pylon stations. It will enable the safe launch of either Meteor or AMRAAM air-to-air missiles.
The aircraft will also carry Harris Corporation’s BRU-47 and BRU-57 release systems. The BRU-57 dual Smart Munition Release System enables to carry bombs up to 2,000lbs class and is found on F-16s flying worldwide. It is also capable of carrying 1,000lbs and 500lbs JDAM family of munitions.
The BRU-47 single store carrier to be fitted on the KF-X is similar to that used on the F-15E.
Engines and performance of KF-X fighter
The aircraft will be powered by two General Electric F414-GE-400 engines equipped with full-authority digital electronic control (FADEC) systems. Each engine will develop a maximum thrust of 22,000lb (98kN).
The local production, integration and installation of the engines will be handled by Hanwha Techwin, through a technical co-operation agreement with GE Aviation.
Key players involved with the KF-X fighter aircraft development
Héroux-Devtek signed a long-term contract with Hanwha for the design and development phase of the KF-X fighter aircraft in August 2016. Under the contract, Héroux-Devtek in collaboration with Hanwha will develop the landing gear of the aircraft.
Lockheed Martin is expected to provide its technical data and reports as well as core manpower to KAI for supporting the aircraft development. GE Aviation was preferred by DAPA for the supply of F414 engines to the KF-X fighter in May 2016.
KAI placed a contract with Triumph Group for the supply of airframe mounted accessory drives (AMAD) for the KF-X fighter, in March 2017.
Oxley was selected by KAI to deliver an external LED lighting system, including a landing, taxiing, refuelling and formation lights, as well as wing tip lights and an intelligent lighting controller for the KF-X fighter, in August 2017.
KAI selected Harris to supply the BRU-47 and BRU-57 release systems for the KF-X multi-role fighter in November 2017.