Seoul eyes powerplant options for KF-X

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Seoul is tentatively exploring engine options for its proposed Korea Fighter Experimental (KF-X) programme, with the Eurojet consortium putting forward its EJ200 powerplant.

According to industry sources at the Seoul air show, the South Korean Defense Acquisition Program Administration has issued requests for information to Eurojet for its EJ200 and to General Electric for its F414.

"We are offering the EJ200 as it is for KF-X, and would allow them to manufacture 60% of the engine," said Eurojet vice-president sales Paul Herrmann.

"This would involve 60% technology transfer, and help make them self-sustaining."

He added that it was up to Seoul to decide what 60% of the engine it would produce locally, adding that it seems particularly interested in full authority digital engine control technology.

 

© Geoffrey Lee/Planefocus

The EJ200 is the powerplant for the Eurofighter Typhoon (above), a contender in South Korea's F-X III competition for 60 fighters. Herrmann stressed that the EJ200 offer for KF-X is not associated with Eurofighter's F-X III campaign. The F414 powers the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.

Though the KF-X is likely to require 50,000lb (220kN) of thrust, Seoul has yet to decide if this will be achieved with two engines of the EJ200 and F414 size, or with a single larger engine such as the Pratt & Whitney F135, which powers the Lockheed Martin F-35.

P&W has not received an RFI in relation to KF-X, but said it would be willing to explore the possibility if approached. P&W is the dominant powerplant supplier for the Republic of Korea Air Force, with its F100 engines powering the 21 Boeing F-15Ks obtained under the F-X II competition, as well as the service's fleet of Lockheed KF-16s.

The KF-X is intended as an F-16 replacement. Although Seoul has been interested in the programme for some time, it was only in July that Korea Aerospace Industries and the government signed a contract to develop the aircraft. Indonesia is also part of the programme, with the two governments opening a combined research and development centre in August.

On 14 July, Indonesia's Antara official news agency said Jakarta would participate in the programme, contributing 20% of the development costs. The two partners have agreed to produce 150 to 200 units, of which Indonesia would get 50.

Industry sources have said Washington is highly dubious about the KF-X programme. It may be wary of providing advanced technologies for an aircraft that is being co-produced with Indonesia, a country that has been subject to US arms sanctions in the past.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a US government official has also said KF-X will place a tremendous strain on South Korea's research capabilities and defence budget, resulting in a fighter less effective than others available in the international market.