By Jung Sung-ki
GYEONGJU, North Gyeongsang Province ― Turkey has shown a strong interest in joining Korea’s KF-X fighter development plan, after having already won investment from Indonesia, a chief of the military's aircraft programs said.
Maj. Gen. Choi Cha-kyu, director general of the aircraft program bureau at the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA), said during a forum here Tuesday that Ankara is seriously considering participating in the KF-X program to replace its 180 older F-16 aircraft by 2020.
“Turkey’s air force operates about 180 F-16 aircraft, and there will be a requirement to replace the older fighters with newer ones by 2020,” the two-star Air Force general said. “Once on board, Turkey is expected to bear the same amount of development costs as Indonesia.”
Cha said the KF-X, which was initiated in 2002 but postponed due to financial and technological problems, will start next year with the consent of budget authorities.
Industry sources say Turkey’s participation in the KF-X project could result in a barter deal. Ankara wants Seoul to consider its T-129 helicopter, under development for the Turkish Army, as a candidate for the AH-X heavy attack helicopter acquisition program.
The KF-X program calls for developing an indigenous fighter similar to the latest F-16 by 2022 with financial support from foreign nations or defense companies.
About 120 KF-Xs would be built initially and more than 130 aircraft would be produced additionally after the first-phase models reach operational capability.
Korea will foot 60 percent of the KF-X development costs worth some 5 trillion won ($4.2 billion), with the balance to come from other governments or corporate partners in a “risk sharing” attempt.
Under a memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed on July 15, Indonesia agreed to bear 20 percent of the bill and buy about 50 KF-X planes when mass production begins.
The production costs after the development phase are estimated to be about 6 trillion won.
Korea is seeking to receive relevant technology transfers from U.S. and European aerospace firms. Possible corporate partners include Boeing and Lockheed Martin of the United States, the European defense group EADS and Sweden’s Saab.
The original proposal for the KF-X was to develop a fifth-generation stealth fighter, something that is in between the Dassault Rafale or Eurofighter Typhoon and the Lockheed Martin F-35.
Amid controversy over the feasibility of the original plan, the DAPA commissioned a second study in April last year to the Weapons Systems Concept Development and Application Research Center of Konkuk University.
The center then recommended a plan to develop an F-16 type aircraft fitted with the AESA radar, an electronic warfare suite and data link systems fit for a network-centric environment.
The think tank also recommended the jet to have a combat radius about 1.5 times that of the F-16, an airframe life span 1.34 times longer than that of the F-16 and better avionics than that of the F-16 Block 50.
Among other required capabilities are a thrust of 50,000 pounds, provided by either one or two engines, super-velocity intercept and supercruise capabilities, and the ability to hit targets in the air, on land and at sea.
[단독] 터키, KF-X 한국형 전투기 사업 참여 추진
터키 정부가 한국형전투기 사업에 큰 관심을 보이는 것으로 전해진다.
최차규 방위사업청 항공기 사업부장은 경주에서 열린 항공포럼에서 터키가 2020년경에 180여대의 F-16 전투기를 교체하는 소요가 있을 것으로 예상되는 가운데 KF-X사업 참여를 심도있게 검토하고 있다고 언급했다.
최 부장은 "터키는 현재 180대의 F-16을 운용하고 있고 대부분 블록 30형 이하 버전이다"라며 "터키는 현재 KF-X에 인도네시아 만큼 투자하는 방안을 검토하고 있다"라고 전했다.
그는 "양국의 실무 협의가 10월에 열릴 예정이며 빠르면 내년 초 터키의 KF-X사업 참여 MOU가 체결될 수 도 있다"고 말했다.
최 부장은 그간 예산과 기술적 타당성 문제로 지연되어 왔던 KF-X사업은 내년 착수 하기로 예산당국과 이미 협의를 마친 상태라고 덧붙였다.
업계 소식통들은 터키의 KF-X사업에 참여할 경우 한국이 T-129공격헬기를 AH-X사업의 일환으로 구매하는 방안을 제안할 것으로 보고 있다.
현재 한국은 약 36대의 대형 공격헬기를 구매할 계획을 가지고 있다.
KF-X사업은 2022년경까지 국제 공동 투자를 유치해 F-16 블록 50형의 한국형 전투기를 개발을 목표로 하고 있다.
지난 7월 인도네시아는 5조 가량의 개발비 중 20%를 부담하고 대량생산이 이루어질 때 쯤 50여대의 KF-X전투기를 구매하는 방안을 담은 mou를 체결한 바 있다.