Military and Strategic Journal
Issued by the Directorate of Morale Guidance at the General Command of the Armed Forces
United Arab Emirates
Founded in August 1971

2021-12-01

Korea’s KF-21:Indigenous Ingenuity in Action

Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) unveiled the first prototype of South Korea’s maiden homegrown supersonic fighter, KF-21, in April 2021 during a rollout ceremony at its headquarters in Sacheon. The jet was officially given the name Boramae, meaning hawk in Korean. 
 
The event marked a milestone in the country’s two-decade-long endeavour to boost its self-reliant air defence capabilities.
 
The development of the KF-21 has been called the most expensive military project in Korean history, with a price tag of approximately US$7.8 million for development alone. Approximately US$1.56 million, or 20 per cent, is to be paid by Indonesia, which will eventually receive 50 out of a total 170 jets.
 
KAI plans to produce six more fighter jet prototypes — four single-seat and two twin-seat models — by the first half of next year. The first test flight is anticipated in 2022, with manufacturing scheduled to begin in 2026. At least 40 aircraft are planned to be delivered by 2028. It will also be available for export market from 2028 onwards. 
 
South Korea is one of less than a handful of nations pursuing the expensive development of an indigenous 4.5+ generation fighter aircraft. When the KF-21 successfully completes all its test flights, Korea would become only the eighth country in the world to develop a supersonic fighter jet.
 
The KF-21 is expected to replace the South Korean Air Force’s F-5E/F Tiger IIs and F-4 Phantoms as well as some older F-16C/Ds and F-15K Slam Eagles, all of which are nearing the end of their life cycle. Plans to create a homegrown fighter jet were first announced in 2001 by then-President Kim Dae-jung in an Air Force Academy graduation speech, when Kim told cadets, “We’ll let you ride fighter jets developed by Korea.”
 
Development Programme 
The development programme is set to last for a total of 10 years and six months, and is designed as an international joint development with Indonesia. It is led by the South Korean government, which holds 60 per cent of the programme’s shares. Indonesia took a 20 per cent stake in the programme in 2010, and the remaining 20 per cent is held by private partners including the manufacturer KAI. 
 
During the KF-21’s development process, Korean engineers localised key technologies needed in the indigenous stealth fighter, including the active electronically scanned array (AESA), infrared search and tracking system, electro-optical targeting pod and electronic warfare suite. 
 
The reason behind the decision is practical advantages of production stability and domestic supply derived from the localisation of such key technologies. Parts can be replaced and repaired at any time. The advanced avionics technology, including the AESA radar, can also be applied to upgrade existing fighters such as the KF-16 and F-15K.
 
The government estimates the project has created 2.1 trillion won in economic effects and 12,000 jobs from 2016 to 2020. When it goes into mass production, 100,000 new jobs are expected to be created.
 
Twin Engine
The airframe is stealthier than other fourth-generation fighters, but does not carry weapons in internal bays. Customers can configure the payload as required. 
 
Some analysts say the design of the KF-21 is strikingly similar to the US’ F-22 Raptor although the South Korean jet has been positioned as an alternative to the F-35 Lightning-II. The KF-21 complements the 60 American F-35As that South Korea is purchasing. KF-21 is a twin, rather than a single-engine fighter jet; the prototypes are powered by a pair of General Electric F414-GE-400K engines. 
 
United Technologies announced in February 2018 that it was providing the environmental control system, including cabin pressurisation and liquid cooling systems, as well as the air turbine starter and flow control valve. 
 
Martin-Baker was contracted to provide the Mk18 ejection seat escape mechanism. Cobham received contracts to provide missile ejection launchers, communications antennae, external fuel tanks, and oxygen systems. 
 
Key Parts
Hanwha Techwin signed an agreement with General Electric to manufacture General Electric F414 engines for KF-X aircraft. Hanwha/GE will supply 240 F414s for the full fleet of 120 aircraft. 
 
Hanwha is to manufacture key parts, locally assemble the engines, and oversee the installation of the engine on the aircraft. The company will also support flight testing and build an extensive support system for the aircraft’s operations. 
 
Triumph Group was selected by KAI to provide airframe mounted accessory drives (AMADs) for the KF-X. Triumph will develop and manufacture the AMADs, which transfer engine power to other systems. 
 
Compañía Española de Sistemas Aeronáuticos, (CESA), a subsidiary of Héroux-Devtek, was contracted to develop the emergency braking system. 
 
Critical Avionics 
The AESA radar in KF-21 was developed by Hanwha Systems with assistance from other domestic firms and support from foreign companies. Elta Systems helped to test the prototype AESA, and Saab worked with LIG Nex1 on software development and evaluation. In addition to working on the AESA, LIG Nex1 is to develop a radio jammer. 
 
U.S. aerospace contractor Texstars was picked by KAI to develop canopy and windshield transparencies for KF-X. Under the contract, Texstars will work alongside KAI to provide the KF-X fighter with birdstrike resistant transparencies with high-quality optics. 
 
Meggitt was contracted to provide a wheel braking system, standby flight displays, and internal sensors including a fire detection system. 
Elbit Systems was contracted by Hanwha Systems to provide terrain-following/terrain avoidance (TF/TA) systems for the aircraft. 
 
Curtiss-Wright agreed to Provide complete flight test instrumentation (FTI) system. 
 
Stealth Capability
Similar to F-35 and F-22, the KF-21 will offer the end-user stealth. However, it cannot match the same degree of radar signature reduction which the U.S. 5th Gen fighter duo offers.
The KF-21 is thought to have a radar cross-section on par with the Eurofighter Typhoon, but planned upgrades should reduce its radar signature considerably. What limits the KF-21’s stealth capability is the decision to carry weapons externally on six under-wing and four under-fuselage hardpoints. 
 
Missile Procurement
The current KF-21 model lacks an internal weapons bay. Future variations, however, may include one. For the first KF-21 batch, South Korea is procuring air-to-air missiles from European companies MBDA and Diehl BGT.  MBDA was contracted to integrate the Meteor beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM) onto the aircraft. 
 
The weapons for the strike variant are a part of the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) arsenal. The Paveway II laser-guided bombs, GPS/INS-guided GBU-39 Small Diametre Bombs and GBU-31/38 Joint Direct Attack Munition bombs, plus CBU‐105 Wind Corrected Munitions Dispenser kits are some such munitions.
 
The aircraft is expected to be able to carry a payload as heavy as 16,975 pounds and maintain a top speed of Mach 1.83 (1,400 miles per hour). The KF-21 seems to have a performance edge over the F-35A in some respects as it boasts an effective range of approximately 1,800 miles.
 
South Korea’s Hanwha Systems has indigenously produced an electronically scanned AESA radar, which can complement long-range weapons such as the MBDA’s Meteor air-to-air missile.
 
This would help extend the Korean air defence range beyond what the F-16 presently offers. This combination provides for an F-35-style deterrent which can augment Korea’s own Joint Strike Fighter fleet and its Boeing E-737 Peace Eye airborne early warning and control aircraft.
 
With the South Korean aircraft’s critical avionics and associated sensors being developed, customers from across the world may expect more autonomy, a better product and a steady supply if they go with the K-21.
 
Test Video
A computer-generated video of the KF-21 flying in concert with a swarm of three unmanned FA-50 aircraft was released by the company to coincide with the Seoul International Aerospace & Defence Exhibition in October. It is expected the Boramae will be able to reach speeds of up to 1,400mph and will boast a ferry flight range of 1,550 nautical miles.
 
KAI also revealed its concept for an unmanned version of the company’s FA-50 Fighting Eagle light combat aircraft that could serve as a ‘loyal wingman’ for the manned KF-21 Boramae future fighter.
 
In converting the manned FA-50 into an unmanned loyal wingman, RoKAF will be able to add much-needed mass to its planned KF-21 fleet at a comparatively low procurement and operating cost. 
 
Capable of carrying a range of air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons, these wingmen could serve as autonomous fighters and/or ground attack platforms being controlled from the KF-21, as ‘suicide’ weapons in their own right, or as decoys for the manned fighter. 
 
The RoKAF is acquiring more than 140 T-50 Golden Eagle trainer and FA-50 Fighting Eagle light combat aircraft in the coming years, and has disclosed plans to field up to 120 KF-21 future fighter aircraft by 2032.
 
Reference Text/Photo:
 

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