Seoul has unveiled a full-sized mock-up of the developmental Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) KF-X fighter.
The model on display at the ADEX exhibition shows the KF-X’s six under-wing hardpoints carrying models of two external fuel tanks, two bombs and two Diehl Defence IRIS-T short-range air-to-air missiles. Its right cheek station carries a mock-up of the Lockheed Martin Sniper targeting pod, with four MBDA Meteor beyond-visual-range air-to-air missiles on the fuselage.
Although the aircraft resembles Lockheed's F-35A, it lacks several of the US type’s stealth qualities. The port for its 20mm cannon is exposed, for example, and the infrared search and track (IRST) sensor protrudes in front of the cockpit canopy, similar to on the Typhoon.
The KF-X is to enter service in 2026
The aircraft’s Block I iteration will lack internal weapons carriage, but this is planned for subsequent production blocks.
Curiously, there is no mention of Seoul’s partner in the project, Indonesia, anywhere around the display. Jakarta is a 20% partner in the $7.2 billion programme, but has been trying to renegotiate its financial commitment.
The rear of the KF-X mockup
In September, Seoul completed the critical design review of the KF-X, setting the stage for the roll-out of a prototype in the first half of 2021.
Powered by two GE Aviation F414 engines, the KF-X will conduct its debut sortie in the first half of 2022, with operational deployment planned for 2026. It is planned for the type to be as capable as advanced versions of the Lockheed F-16, and for it to replace McDonnell Douglas F-4s and Northrop F-5s in South Korean service.