Korean multirole combat aircraft will conquer world markets

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This post was published in Defence24. The point of view expressed in this article is authorial and do not necessarily reflect BM`s editorial stance.

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WARSAW, (BM) – Around 2030, the Korean KAI Boramae fighter will be mass-produced and more modern than the existing 4.5 generation machines such as Rafale, Eurofighter and Gripen. Meanwhile, the next-generation FCAS / SKAF and Tempest planes will still be far from complete, and American designs will still not be for sale to everyone, Korean Aerospace Industries said, predicting the great export success of the system under construction.

Interestingly, Koreans define the machine they are creating, with the help of the American company Lockheed Martin and the European MBDA, as not the 5th or 6th, but … 4.5 generation aircraft. Theoretically, it will be a platform on a similar level to the European Gripens, Typhoons or Rafales mentioned in the introduction. In fact, this modest classification results only from the abandonment of one parameter – stealth properties [the machine will not carry weapons in internal chambers].

With this one exception, the fruit of the KF-X program is to be an aircraft worthy of the third decade of the 21st century, with the latest solutions in the field of electronics, software and on-board sensors. The shape of the Boramae’s hull indicates that it will have some features of a reduced radar signature anyway. Similarly to the F-35 in the Beast mode [with external weapons], which is even more difficult to detect than, for example, the F-16.

The Koreans, who just a few weeks ago boasted of owning the technology that will enable them to independently produce actively electronically scanned array radars [AESA], plan to complete at least one of the six prototypes in June next year. After that, ground tests and three years of flight tests are to continue. The start of serial production is planned for 2026.

The deadline seems realistic considering that so far – as KAI proudly emphasizes – the aircraft’s program is not delayed and is going as planned. Nowadays, it is a kind of phenomenon and even the Koreans themselves admit that starting an expensive program – currently estimated by them at USD 16 billion – was initially risky.

The Republic of Korea wants to buy 120 Hawks and replace the F-4 Phantom II and F-5 Tiger II with them. Let’s add, however, that it will buy at least that much. More platforms will require replacements shortly thereafter. Perhaps they will be replaced by some development version of the currently developed aircraft. In addition, there is a probable order of several dozen machines from Indonesia, which is a minority partner of the program. But will less than 200 first-order aircraft allow for economies of scale to compete with, for example, the F-35? Koreans say yes and estimate the price of their product at $ 50-60 million.

If they could achieve this, coupled with their unscrupulous selection of customers and planned independence in terms of components used in the design of this aircraft, it could mean that export markets will be favorable to them. Competition may be limited – the F-35 will not be available to everyone, and the TF-X [Turkish] and AMCA [Indian] programs are now at a much earlier stage with all risks ahead of them. The Chinese J-31 remains a mystery, but not much is heard about [the J-20 will not be offered for export] and the Russian Su-57.

Potentially, the purchase of Boramae should provide the customer with an air advantage over neighbors that own only 4th generation aircraft, and if you invest in a large number of these relatively inexpensive platforms and provide yourself with a numerical advantage to engage in combat with users of 5th generation fighters.

It is worth emphasizing that independence when it comes to creating the ability to build your own components pays off not only because of building your own modern fighter. The Koreans already want to modernize their KF-16 fighters, with the most important element of this modernization being the replacement of the radar with a native, independently produced AESA radar. In this way, Seoul will order an upgrade comparable to the F-16V, leaving money in its own economy. Korea estimates that the modernization of these machines will cost $ 1.7 billion. Taiwan paid 4.5 billion USD for the modernization of its 142 F-16 to the V standard, although it must be admitted that the work covered much older models of the A and B versions than the Korean ones, which required much more work.

The Koreans want to use the technologies created on the occasion of Boramae also in other projects, including civil aviation, including construction of small and medium-sized communication aircraft, and perhaps also in the program of its own military transport aircraft. This is to enable their economy to gain a greater share of the global aviation market, which is currently in crisis and facing a new hand.

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