The South Korean Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) today announced that its KF-X fighter jet prototype is nearly ready and its roll out planned for April 2021.
A photograph released by the DAPA shows the jet in fully assembled form and undergoing what looks like final touches.
The canopy, cockpit and fuselage have been assembled.
The prototype jet is currently painted in yellow-green color. It will be coated in dark gray prior to its showcase event in April.
The assembly of the first prototype began in September 2020 by Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) which is the project lead under guidance of the DAPA. KF-X jets will replace old F-4 and F-5 fighters.
"After working only with the blueprint so far, we will now have something we can actually see and test whether what we have been studying actually works," Jung Kwang-sun, heading the KF-X program at the DAPA, told reporters at KAI headquarters in the southern city of Sacheon recently.
KAI wants to complete the construction of three prototypes by the end of this year, and wrap up assembling another three by mid-2022. Separately, two additional copies will be made for ground tests to examine the jet's durability, officials said.
All of the trial jets were designed slightly differently to conduct various tests before its official release. Some are single seated, while others are for tandem.
First flight test of the 4.5 generation fighter is scheduled for 2022. Completion of ground and flight tests is expected around 2026. The goal of the 8.8 trillion-won ($7.9 billion) KF-X project 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.
Forty units are planned to be delivered to the Air Force by 2028 and another 80 units by 2032. KAI wants to export some of these jets abroad. "Our assessment before launching this project was that we could export some 300 to 500 jets abroad considering countries that are planning to replace their aging warplanes," Jung added.
While bearing outward similarities to the fifth-generation F-35A, the aircraft is more aligned to the F-16 in terms of performance and features. However, its future iterations will have features of the American stealth fighter. "As we have the platform, we do obviously have derivative models in mind. We will not leave this platform unused," Jung said.
The aircraft is expected to fly at a maximum speed of Mach 1.81, a range of 2,900 km and maximum payload of 7,700 kg. The fighter will contain 10 pods for missiles and fuel tanks. It will be able to carry several types of air-to-air missiles, such as Germany's IRIS-T and MBDA's active radar guided Meteor missiles.