KFX C-103 serie (photo : 360js, image : tiexue)
South Korea’s mega projects to develop indigenous fighters and purchase stealth warplanes are picking up pace as Seoul plans to approve crucial administrative steps at the national defense acquisition program committee in September.
At the committee, top defense officials are to approve the bidding plan for the “KFX project” to develop home-built fighters, and the result of negotiations for the FX stealth fighter procurement project will be reported, sources said.
After giving public notice of the bids for the KFX project this month, the Defense Acquisition Program Administration plans to pick the preferred bidder in November and sign a contract on the system development in December. Korea Aerospace Industries, the country’s sole fighter maker, is likely to be chosen as the system developer.
Observers say that budgetary issues remain a major barrier to the KFX project, which seeks to deploy 120 fighters after 2023 to replace South Korea’s aging fleets of F-4s and F-5s. Including both the development and mass production of the envisioned fighters, the project, the country’s largest-ever defense program, is expected to cost nearly 20 trillion won ($19.7 billion).
Seoul has sped up the KFX project, which was already more than a decade behind schedule, as concerns have been growing over a possible shortage of fighters in the coming years. The Air Force is expected to face a shortage of around 100 fighters in 2019, when almost all of the F-4s and F-5s will be decommissioned.
Regarding the project, there was some controversy over whether the KFX would take a single-engine platform or a double-engine one. But last month, the government opted for a double-engine platform, which would increase the plane’s overall capabilities despite a potential price increase.
Seoul also seeks to sign the “letter of acceptance” for the FX project as early as September ― a process that would accelerate its acquisition of 40 radar-evading F-35 fighters from the U.S. defense firm Lockheed Martin. The FX project is estimated to cost around 7.4 trillion won.
The DAPA is in the final round of negotiations over the price with the U.S. government, while it is in talks over technology transfer and related issues with Lockheed Martin. The FX project is proceeding through a government-to-government foreign military sales program.