South Korea is taking new steps to build its own multi-role stealth fighter by further advancing construction of prototypes of its KF-X, a new aircraft slated to be revealed next year.
The prototype, called the Korean Fighter Experimental, is expected to make its first flight in 2022, according to a report from the Asia Times.
“The KF-X, development of which is scheduled to be completed in 2026 followed by mass production in 2028, is expected to reach a top speed of about 1,400 mph (or about Mach 1.83), have a range of about 2,900 km, a maximum take-off weight of 25,580 kg, and be capable of carrying up to 7,700 kg of payload,” the report says.
Citing a report from Janes, the Asia Times reports that the KF-X builders, Korea Aerospace Industries, are now “joining the fuselage section and wings.”
Interestingly, early pictures of the KF-X seem to reveal a slightly less stealthy plane than other modern stealth fighters. The first thing that sticks out is the protruding weapons pylons beneath the wings which hang missiles. While the F-35 fighter jet operates with an internal weapons bay, the Korean stealth fighter seems to travel with external structures more detectable by enemy “radar pings,” it would seem.
The KF-X does look like it has a stealthy main fuselage, as the top looks like a smooth rounded frame, however the bottom of the plane looks decidedly less stealthy. A simple comparison to the F-35 shows considerable differences. The engine inlets appear sharper, more rectangular and external to the main fuselage; the F-35s engine inlets, while still somewhat rectangular, are blended more closely into the body of the plane. The KF-X also looks like it carries weapons underneath it, revealing shapes, contours and external structures more easily detectable.
As for reasons for this, it may simply be that South Korea has a slightly different vision for its new fighter, as it may be less likely to succeed against extremely advanced air defenses. However, given that Korea is acquiring its own F-35, it may be that the new plane is intended to fortify, supplement or support an F-35 by offering additional attack possibilities. Perhaps the plane, being somewhat stealthy, can operate in high risk areas yet operate in more of a supportive role, at least initially.
“At least 120 examples are expected to replace the Republic of Korea Air Force’s (ROKAF) fleet of ageing McDonnell Douglas F-4D/E Phantom IIs and Northrop F-5E/F Tiger IIs,” Flight Global reported.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.
Image: Wikimedia Commons.