Korea Aerospace Industries Co. (KAI) has commenced final assembly of a prototype jet at its assembly line in Sacheon, south of Seoul on Thursday, according to the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA).
Under the KF-X project worth 8.8 trillion won (US$7.3 billion), South Korea has been working since late 2015 to develop a home-grown fighter aircraft to replace the Air Force's aging fleet of F-4 and F-5 jets, KAI announced today quoting a DAPA statement.
The greenlight for final assembly came following the design confirmation last year and the local development of certain crucial technologies such as the Active Electronically Scanning Array (AESA) radar.
The prototype is expected to be ready in the first half of 2021, and the agency is eyeing 2026 for the completion of development after ground and flight tests, KAI said in a statement posed on its website and quoting DAPA.
The aircraft is designed to be able to fly at a maximum speed of Mach 1.81, with its flying range reaching 2,900 kilometers. It bears outward similarities to the fifth-generation F-35A, according to the KAI.
The fighter will have 10 pods for missiles and fuel barrels. It will be able to carry several types of air-to-air missiles, such as Germany's IRIS-T and European developer MBDA's active radar guided Meteor missiles.
“KAI will roll out the first KF-X prototype by April next year. After the first prototype, the remaining five prototypes will come out one after another within the same year. Test flights are scheduled in 2022,” a KAI official had said in July 2020.
Of the six prototypes, one will be delivered to Indonesia, co-developer of KF-X project. The KF-X is expected to be slotted one level below the F-35 jets in the South Korean Air Force.
Starting with the test flights in 2022, the prototypes will then undergo four years of trials, and the development is expected to be completed by mid-2026.
The first batch of mass-produced KF-X aircraft are expected between 2026 and 2028. They will be equipped with limited air-to-ground weapons in addition to air-to-air weapons.
The second batch, which will be series-produced from 2029, will be capable of performing full air-to-air and air-to-ground combat missions.