SEOUL, South Korea — South Korean defense officials are in a quandary over how to acquire an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, a key component for the country's fighter development program code-named KF-X, following the US refusal to transfer the advanced radar technology.
Sweden's Saab offered to develop an AESA with South Korea.
"We've done the flight test with the backend system and antenna elements," said Tom Bratt, marketing executive of Saab Electronic Defence Systems. "We're ready to go to the next phase once we have a platform available. Then we can start to make all the proper integrations."
"Once we have a contract, it will take about two years to deliver the first system," he added.
Finmeccanica's Selex is pitching its Captor-E radar fitted for the Eurofighter Typhoon. The British and Italian aerospace group recommends Seoul adopt the Selex radar and subsequently localize it in phases.
"The bottom line is we'll try to meet the Korean demands as much as we can," a Selex official said on condition of anonymity.
"The best option right now is for Korea to produce the Captor-E radar under license first, and with Selex's tech transfer, Korea would be able to localize the AESA technology," he said.
"We're willing and looking forward to cooperating with Korea," said Igal Karny, deputy director of Elta Systems' marketing and sales division. "The whole radar is our radar. We're exporting the radar according to our regulations," Karny said, apparently referring to Korea's wariness of AESA export control.
Unlike European and Israeli firms, US radar manufacturers were cautious when talking about AESA cooperation with Korea.
"I can only tell you that right now we don't have a license required for us to discuss KF-X radar cooperation," a Raytheon official said.
Northrop Grumman was a bit more active in participating in the KF-X effort, as it seeks to sell its scalable agile beam radar to Korea.
"We favor a two-track approach toward acquiring AESA technology," a KAI spokesman said. "We can develop a KF-X jet equipped with either US or European AESA system over the next five years," he said. "In the meantime, the ADD and a foreign radar company could push for developing an indigenous AESA within 10 years at the earliest, so the next KF-X block models would be fitted with the locally developed radar."
"I believe we can develop our own AESA and other key technologies within 10 years," National Security Adviser Kim Kwan-jin said in a National Assembly audit Oct. 23.
"We're delighted to offer the EJ200 engine for the KF-X program. This is the latest, proven engine," said Clemens Linden, CEO of Eurojet. "The engine has an easy maintenance concept with 15 modules that can be exchanged at the base without going back to the test house."
Linden stressed Eurojet would offer lenient technology transfer so Korea could export Eurojet-based engines to third nations free of US export control.
"When the KF-X program advances and grows, we can have joint development with the Korean industry to grow the engine further," the CEO said, adding that his company will help Korea learn engine integration skills.
General Electric is pitching its F414 engine, highlighting its long experience producing engines under license with the Korean industry.
GE stresses the development roadmap for the F-414, which powers the US Navy's Boeing F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet, and GE's succesful work on a number of international programs, including KAI's T-50, the Saab Gripen and the Hindustan Aeronautics Tejas.
"KF-X is the largest ever military weapons development program in Korea's history, and it will require low-risk solutions in terms of cost, technology and life-cycle management," Al Dilibero, vice president of GE Aviation, said. "GE will bring the best and the most diverse fighter engine integration experience around the world to KF-X, which will lower overall risk of KF-X development."
KAI issued the request for proposals for the engine weeks ago and responses are due Nov. 4. The winner is scheduled to be announced by February and stands to sell about 400 engines.
Jeff Jeong was the South Korea correspondent for Defense News.