SEOUL — Korea Aerospace Industries is considering adding military transport planes to its product line with the goal of partnering with foreign aircraft manufacturers, Defense News has learned.

This would be an “unexplored business field” for the South Korean company, according to a source with KAI, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“For KAI, the transport aircraft market is an unexplored field, which has high potential for localization,” the source said. “The technology intensity of transport aircraft is lower than that of fighter jets, while the market of maintenance, repair and overhaul of transport planes remains profitable.”

Founded in 1999, KAI has developed a successful portfolio of indigenous aerospace products including trainer jets, helicopters, fighter aircraft and satellites. The development of an indigenous fighter aircraft, codenamed KF-X, is underway with a goal of unveiling a prototype in the first half of 2021.

KAI’s internal analysis of the domestic transport aircraft market suggested about 100 transport aircraft would be in demand over the next three decades given the life span of aircraft flown by the military, the source told Defense News.

In addition, the company believes there will be a chance to sell about 100 airlift planes overseas, the source explained.

“To keep up with the demand for addressing increasing nonmilitary threats, such as national disaster, infectious disease and humanitarian aid, the needs for military transport airplanes are likely to grow,” the source added.

The South Korean military operates about 60 transport aircraft built by foreign firms. The Air Force operates C-130s and CN-235s, mainly for airlift operations, while the Navy has P-3Cs and P-8As for maritime patrol missions. The oldest planes among the P-3C fleet were adopted 25 years ago.

In line with efforts to take back wartime control of its forces from the U.S. military, South Korean military authorities want to acquire more aerial assets for independent intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance missions.

KAI expects it will be able to build its own transport aircraft in seven years with an investment of about $2.7 billion, according to the source. Following the development of a military version, the company envisages it could modify it into a commercial plane with a seat capacity of 100.

To that end, KAI is eyeing international partnerships, the source said, specifically European company Airbus Defence and Space, Ukraine’s Antonov, and Brazil’s Embraer.

Brian Kim is a South Korea correspondent for Defense News.

More In Industry