F/A-18E/F Super Hornet
By Jung Sung-ki
The South Korean Air Force is looking to deploying indigenous KF-X ``semi-stealth'' strike fighters after 2018 to replace its existing KF-16 fleet, a military source said Tuesday.
The Air Force Studies and Analyses Wing, in charge of force improvement plans, held a close-door meeting in March and made an interim decision on operational requirements for the KF-X fighter, the source told The Korea Times on condition of anonymity.
Basic requirements call for a F-18E/F Super Hornet-class aircraft equipped with 4.5-generation semi-stealth functions, a domestically-built active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, a 32,000-pound of engine thrust and fully integrated weapons and sensors systems, he said.
The KF-X aircraft would be either a single-engine fighter or a twin-engine one, he added.
It is the first time that KF-X operational requirements have been revealed. Previously, it was estimated that the KF-X aircraft would be an F-16-class aircraft stealthier than either Dassault's Rafale or the Eurofighter Typhoon but not as stealthy as Lockheed Martin's F-35 Joint Striker Fighter (JSF).
``A consensus has been reached on the KF-X requirements among the Air Force, the Ministry of National Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff,'' the source said. ``The plan will be submitted to the presidential office soon for approval as part of the military's 2010-14 force improvement package.''
The Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) commissioned a six-month feasibility study on the KF-X program in April to a private research institute, he said.
A DAPA public affairs officer said a final decision on the KF-X program would be decided by November or December after a feasibility study.
In a bid to improve the country's fighter development technologies, the Air Force wants to build an indigenous AESA radar for the KF-X aircraft, based on accrued technologies from Israel, the source noted. He was apparently referring to the service's decision earlier this year on equipping the FA-50 light attack aircraft with Israel's EL/M-2032 mechanically scanned array radar.
The Air Force is also considering installing the 100-kilometer-range Israeli radar on KF-16 fighters as part of aircraft modification efforts, according to sources.
Initiated in 2001, the KF-X program aimed to develop the so-called fifth-generation stealth fighter by 2020, in partnership with a foreign aircraft manufacturer, deploy about 120 units and sell more globally, separate from the multi-phase F-X fighter acquisition project for 120 high-end strike fighters.
The program appeared to have received a boost under the previous Roh Moo-hyun administration, which puts a high emphasis on developing ``self-reliant'' defense capabilities.
But the fate of the KF-X has been controversial in recent years due to technological and financial constraints.
In late 2007, the Korea Development Institute, a state-funded think tank, concluded the KF-X would be nonviable economically. It said the program would cost at least $10 billion but could be expected to reap only $3 billion in economic benefits.
Some defense analysts have also raised questions on technological aspects of the KF-X.
Major foreign bidders for the KF-X include Boeing of the U.S., the European consortium of EADS and Sweden's Saab, the source said.
``Technology transfer will be a key element in selecting a foreign KF-X partner,'' he said.
Among the bidders, Boeing is the most active in offering technology transfer options, he noted, adding the U.S. aircraft giant is proposing to offer the basic platform of the F/A-18 Super Hornet and other 4.5-generation fighter technologies.