South Korea’s plan to develop its indigenous KFX indigenous fighter have hit a roadblock owing to US unwillingness to provide export licences for four core fighter technologies.
In a statement, South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) says that it failed to obtain export licences in four key technology areas: active electronically scanned array (AESA) radars, infrared search and track (IRST), electro-optical target tracking devices, and jammers.
The news has created a furore in South Korean media, with one report saying that country’s leadership will conduct an investigation into the programme.
A key theme in Korean coverage of the issue is that technologies for the KFX programme were to have been derived from offsets related to Seoul’s acquisition of 40 Lockheed Martin F-35 fighters. They question DAPA’s wisdom in selecting the F-35 when technology transfer was apparently not assured.
If KFX moves forward it will become South Korea’s biggest defence acquisition programme. It will see 120 twin-engined fighters delivered the country’s air force, and 80 to Indonesia, a 20% partner in the project.
A source with knowledge of the programme says that Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), which was tapped earlier this year to develop the KFX, has proposed a maiden flight in 2021, with deliveries in 2025. These dates, however, are open to question if the US sticks with its refusal to issue export licences.
Seoul could potentially work with European partners to help develop the aircraft, but traditionally South Korea has been a major buyer of US fighter aircraft, so working with European partners could prolong KFX development.