KAI’s KF-X prototype enters final assembly

Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) launched final assembly of its first Korea Fighter eXperiment (KF-X) multi-role fighter prototype at its Sacheon facility in the South Gyeongsang province on September 1.

The final assembly phase of production will see the aircraft’s forward, middle and rear fuselage be attached to the main wing and empennage to form the final product. The prototype is expected to be rolled out in April 2021, with a first flight scheduled for 2022. System development of the type is due to be completed by 2026.

KF-X Final Assembly [KAI]
Starting to take shape. The first KF-X prototype's main wing and empennage will join the aircraft's forward, middle and rear fuselage during the final assembly phase of production. KAI 

KAI launched development of the KF-X in December 2015. In 2018, it passed its preliminary design review and initial production of the aircraft’s parts began in February 2019. Last September, the KF-X passed its critical design review.

Hyun-Ho Ahn, president and CEO of KAI, said: “Thanks to great partnership and industry, university and institute collaboration, we could launch the final assembly in [the] COVID-19 crisis. There is no way other than success. We will succeed in KF-X and contribute to [the] Korean aviation industry and national economy.”

KF-X Final Assembly [KAI]
KAI's KF-X during final assembly. Note that a red mock-up of the aircraft's active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar has been attached to its nose. KAI

The KF-X is being developed to replace the Republic of Korea Air Force’s (RoKAF’s) ageing McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II and Northrop F-5E/F Tiger II fighter fleets. At present, the air arm plans to acquire 120 examples of the new multi-role fighter, with serial production scheduled to begin in the late-2020s. Indonesia is also involved in the KF-X programme, but an agreement doesn’t appear to have been reached on the nation’s financial contribution.

KAI expects to produce both single and two-seat variants of the KF-X. The company states that the platform will be 55.4ft long, with a wingspan of 36.7ft. The multi-role fighter is expected to have a maximum payload of 17,000lb and will feature ten hardpoints (three under each wing and four under the fuselage).

KF-X Final Assembly [KAI]
The KF-X entered the final assembly phase of production on September 1, 2020. The aircraft is expected to be publicly rolled out in April 2021 and flown for the first time in 2022. KAI

In terms of munitions, in an air-to-ground role, the KF-X is expected to employ Taurus Systems’ KEPD 350 air-launched cruise missile. In an air-to-air role, the platform is expected to be fitted with MBDA’s Meteor beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM). It will also employ Diehl Defence’s IRIS-T and Raytheon’s AIM-9 Sidewinder short-range missiles, along with the latter’s AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM).

Powered by two GE Aviation F414 afterburning turbofan engines, the aircraft is expected to reach speeds of 1,400mph and have a ferry range of 1,550 nautical miles. In total, GE will deliver 15 F414 engines to KAI for the six KF-X prototypes. Hanwha Aerospace will locally produce the powerplant when the type enters serial production.