South Korea's arms procurement agency inked Monday its formal agreement with the country's sole aircraft maker, Korea Aerospace Industries Ltd. (KAI), to undertake an ambitious project to build indigenous fighter jets.
"With the signing of the contract with KAI on Monday, the Defense Acquisition Program Administration will officially set about the fighter jet development project," DAPA said in a statement.
The project will take 10 years and six months before completing the developmental phase by the first half of 2026 and producing the initial batch of aircraft by 2028, according to the state procurement agency.
The project, known as KF-X, is designed to replace the Air Force's aging fleet of F-4 and F-5 combat aircraft with home-grown fighters to be equipped with combat capabilities suitable for future warfare.
KF-X finally took off, putting behind an array of controversy, including the U.S.' refusal to transfer core fighter technologies for the project.
In April, the U.S. State Department denied an export license on four out of the 25 combat jet technologies American defense giant Lockheed Martin tried to provide to South Korea.
The decision was belatedly announced by DAPA in September, causing public criticism over DAPA's suspected attempts to cover up what could have been a major hurdle to the project.
DAPA later decided to replace the four rejected technologies --an active electronically scanned radar, infrared search-and-rescue system, electro-optical targeting pod and radio frequency jammer-- with locally procured ones.
The setback had also raised concerns that a possible delay in the execution of the project may leave the Air Force without fighter jets before the project's completion.
But, KF-X received a boost from the U.S. pledge to transfer the rest of the 25 jet technologies earlier in the month.
South Korea has also secured this month Indonesia's partnership in the project, in which the Southeast Asian country will shoulder 20 percent of the development costs.
Under the Monday deal, DAPA will finance 60 percent of the 8 trillion won (US$6.9 billion) costs required in the development phase, with KAI to pay 20 percent.
A total of eight test planes will be initially produced, with six of them for flight testing and the two others for ground testing. Indonesia will bring one of them home, along with aviation technologies to be transfered to the country.
"This development project seeks to acquire medium-class Korean-type fighter jets through the joint investment of the South Korean government, Indonesia and foreign and local companies so that we can meet our Air Force's post-2020 air power demand on our own and tap into the global combat jet market," DAPA said.
The defense procurement agency also said the project will have a spill-over effect to bring the country's aviation industry one step forward.
"DAPA will utilize the local aviation industry's technologies and manpower that have been accumulated over the past 30 years and will do its best efforts to procure the needed fighter jets on time," DAPA Minister Chang Myoung-jin said.