MELBOURNE, Australia — The development of South Korea’s indigenous KF-X fighter jet has taken another step forward with GE Aviation delivering the first engine for program, although development partner Indonesia continues to rack up overdue payments for its share.
The engine manufacturer announced Friday that it delivered the first F414-GE-400K engine to Korea Aerospace Industries in May. KAI is developing the KF-X for the South Korean Air Force, which intends to replace its fleet of McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II and Northrop F-5E/F Tiger II fighters with the new jet.
“GE is thrilled to reach this important milestone in the KF-X program,” said Al DiLibero, general manager of GE’s Medium Combat and Trainer Engines department. “Our success so far on this program reflects the strong relationship between the [Republic of Korea Air Force] ROKAF, our South Korean industry partners and GE Aviation, and the long and successful history of our engines powering ROKAF aircraft."
KAI selected GE Aviation in May 2016 to supply F414-GE-400K engines for the KF-X fighter, with an eventual total of 240 F414s plus spares to be supplied to KAI to power 120 KF-X jets for South Korea.
A total of 15 engines and six prototypes are expected to be produced for the program by 2021, with first flight expected in 2022. Development is expected to be completed by 2026.
The F414 also powers the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, the Saab JAS 39E/F Gripen and India’s HAL Tejas Mark 2 combat aircraft.
South Korea plans to primarily equip the KF-X with indigenous avionics. These will come mostly from LIG Nex1 and Hanwha, although Israel’s Elbit Systems will supply terrain following/avoidance systems for the active electronically scanned array radar under development by Hanwha. The Israeli company announced the $43 million contract in early February.
The KF-X is also to be compatible with European air-to-air missiles. South Korea signed a contract with European missile-maker MBDA in November 2019 to integrate the Meteor, while Diehl-BGT is also reportedly set to sign a similar contract for its IRIS-T.
It was also reported that the American Paveway laser-guided bomb, the satellite-guided Joint Direct Attack Munition and Textron’s CBU-105 Wind Corrected Munitions Dispenser will be integrated on the KF-X, whose development is being co-funded by Indonesia.
The Southeast Asian nation signed onto the program in 2010, agreeing to pay for 20 percent of the development costs in exchange for one prototype aircraft, design participation, technical data and production sharing.
Since then, however, Indonesia has missed a number of payments amid a budget crunch, with newspaper The Korea Herald reporting in late May that as of April, Indonesia owes $415 million in overdue payments to the program.
Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News. He wrote his first defense-related magazine article in 1998 before pursuing an aerospace engineering degree at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia. Following a stint in engineering, he became a freelance defense reporter in 2013 and has written for several media outlets.