KF-X flight test in 2016 or 2017

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Seoul intends its KF-X fighter to enter flight tests in 2016 or 2017 in the middle of an eight-year engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) phase, with a seven-aircraft flight-test fleet.

On 21 October, Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) outlined details of the acquisition strategy in an interview at the Seoul air show, although the plans are not final until the EMD programme starts in 2013.

KAI is in the second year of a technology development phase working on two possible configurations for the medium-sized fighter, the company said. The studies include a conventional fighter configuration with canted tails and a more novel layout, including forward-canard surfaces and canted tails, it added.

KAI is also studying one- and two-engine options but it said it favours the twin, which is based on existing powerplants in the General Electric F414 or Eurojet EJ200 class.

"Conceptually, we want to develop a KF-16-plus-class fighter," KAI said, adding that some level of stealth is desired but there is no requirement for a very low observable signature in all aspects.

Internal weapons bays are not being seriously considered in the configuration studies, it added.

When asked how the fighter would be marketed internationally, KAI replied that the KF-X is being designed to replace the Republic of Korea Air Force's McDonnell F-4s and Northrop F-5s.

South Korea has already partnered Indonesia, which has invested a 20% stake to develop the KF-X, but more partners could still be added. South Korean officials are still in talks with Turkey, KAI said.

How this effects the KF-X III competition, for the acquisition of 60 fighters to replace F-4s starting in 2014, is still unclear, but a request for proposals - expected to be issued early next year - will set the terms of technology transfers that will feed into the development of the KF-X.

KAI said it expects to be the prime-mover for the KF-X as part of a team with two major subcontractors.