S Korean KF-X Jet Prototype Advances amidst Indonesian Uncertainty

  • Defenseworld.net News Analysis
  • Friday, January 8, 2021 @ 01:41 PM
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S Korean KF-X Jet Prototype Advances amidst Indonesian Uncertainty

KF-X jet final assembly. DAPA image

South Korea’s KF-X fighter jet’s prototype will be released publicly before the first half of 2021 even as reports emerge over possible withdrawal of Indonesia which has taken a 20% partnership in the project.

Employees of Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) are currently assembling the first prototype in the final assembly building of the headquarters in Sacheon, Gyeongnam, according to a report in the Seoul Economic Daily published today.

The SEDaily report carried an image of a fully assembled aircraft to which engineers can be seen putting finishing touches.

The protototype’s impending roll-out was earlier confirmed last month in a year-end press release by KAI. In addition, local media reported that currently a prototype is under assembly, while a maiden flight for the plane is scheduled for 2022.

S Korean KF-X Jet Prototype Advances amidst Indonesian Uncertainty
KF-X final assembly

KF-X project is divided into two stages by applying the 'evolutionary development concept'. The goal is to secure air-to-air capabilities in the first phase, which will be achieved by 2026, and to secure air-to-ground capabilities in the second phase, which is aimed at completion by 2028.

Along with the prototype development the Defence Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) is working to develop core technologies such as: AESA radar, IRST (infrared ray search and tracking equipment), EOTGP (electron-optical target tracking equipment), EW Suite (electronic warfare integrated equipment), and mission computers.

The release quoted an official from the Ministry of Defense as sauing, “Next year will be 20 years since President Kim Dae-jung declared his will to develop'Korean fighter jets' at the graduation ceremony of the Air Force Academy. We look forward to seeing the real Korean fighter in 2021.”

S Korean KF-X Jet Prototype Advances amidst Indonesian Uncertainty
New AESA radar for KF-X. Hanwha image

However, a report in Korea JoongAng Daily said: the indigenous fighter jet project may end up costing taxpayers much more than planned  as its partner Indonesia toys with pulling out from the program altogether.

Total development cost has been estimated at 8.5 trillion won ($7.8 billion), of which 1.6 trillion won, or 20 percent, is to be paid by Indonesia under a contract the two countries signed in 2016. KAI aims to produce 125 jets for S Korea and 51 jets for Indonesia by 2026.

According to Korean lawmaker Shin Won-shik, Indonesia has only paid 227.2 billion won out of the 831.6 billion won it promised for this year. The payment made by Jakarta so far only covers around 13 percent of its commitment.

Indonesia has held back from further financial commitments. In addition, it did not send back the 114 technical specialists from its aerospace firm PT Dirgantara, who were repatriated in March due to outbreaks of the coronavirus in South Korea. 

S Korean KF-X Jet Prototype Advances amidst Indonesian Uncertainty
Rafale jet

To secure Indonesia’s participation, negotiators from DAPA visited Indonesia in September.

 According to reports quoting a government source, Indonesian officials asked for a renegotiation of the initial deal, demanding more technology besides reducing its of its project share from 20 to 15 percent. No deal was reached, and negotiations remain ongoing, the source said.

Meanwhile, Indonesia is reported to have has entered into negotiations with France to buy the Rafale jet with more transfer of technology (TOT) than it was getting with the KF-X. The plan is to buy 48 jets, some of which could be assembled in Indonesia under TOT. The Indonesian military prefers the Rafale due to its proven ability, maturity of its system and usage in several countries (India, Egypt, Qatar, France) to which Indonesia wants to be parts supplier.