Korean Show Highlights KF-X Fighter Project

 - October 23, 2015, 7:31 AM
A model of the twin-engine KF-X design was a prominent feature of the Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) stand. (Jim Winchester)

Korea’s KF-X indigenous fighter project was again a center of attention at the Seoul International Aerospace and Defence Exhibition (ADEX 2015), held this week at Seongnam airbase, south of the capital. Korean Air unveiled a new unmanned version of the MD500 "Little Bird" helicopter. The small daily flying display was blighted by atmospheric haze, which prevented most acts from getting airborne during the first half of the week.

No major progress on KF-X was announced at ADEX, but a model of the twin-engine, twin-tail C103 design was displayed on the Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) stand. The lower-cost single-engine C501 version shown at ADEX 2013 was not evident this year. Program interest currently centers on the supply by foreign OEMs of powerplants and radars. Eurojet’s EJ200 and GE’s F404 and F414 are among the engine contenders for the Korean RFP. Eurojet had a production engine on display and an F414-powered Boeing Super Hornet was in the static display. Having supplied F404 engines for the T-50 in partnership with KAI, GE is bullish about its prospects. A decision on the KF-X engine is expected in 2016.

Saab was showing off its new and as yet unnamed AESA radar at ADEX. Intended as a replacement for the mechanically scanned radar in the Gripen C/D variants, it is scaleable to fit a variety of platforms and Saab is hopeful that it will be a candidate for KF-X. AESA radar is one of four key technologies that U.S. industry cannot now supply to South Korea, following a ban by the U.S. Congress. Saab’s offering is ITAR-free. Selex Gallileo was also present at ADEX, showing its Vixen 1000E AESA radar.

A surprise absence was that of the KAI Surion medium helicopter. The company’s own aircraft are engaged on trials, and it seems none could be spared from the nearly 40 or so far supplied to the RoKAF and other agencies. At the show the Korean National Police signed for a fourth example, to enter service in 2017. Marketing efforts for the Surion are being concentrated on existing KAI customers such as Iraq and the Philippines, with South American nations and Botswana also being courted.

The Korean Air Aerospace Division (KAL-ASD) revealed an unmanned version of the MD500 "Little Bird" helicopter.  Dubbed the Korean Air Unmanned System-Vertical Helicopter (KUS-VH), the new UAV will be be armed, unlike Boeing’s similar H-6U Unmanned Little Bird. The KUS-VH will make its maiden unmanned flight next year before evaluation by the RoK Army, which already has up to 175 manned MD500 models in service.

Another new unmanned South Korean system is the KUS-FT tactical unmanned aerial system. This battlefield UAV with a catapult launcher and command vehicles has quietly entered service with the RoK Army and Marines, although officials declined to say how many have been fielded to date.

A Lockheed Martin representative said the company is expecting an RFP for the sale of up to 12 S-3B Viking maritime patrol aircraft to the Republic of Korea Navy (RoKN) and is also in discussion with two other Asian nations and one in South America for S-3s. There are around 90 Vikings in desert storage that are suitable for regeneration and modernization, which in Korea’s case at least would be done in partnership with local industry.

Making its longest journey to date, an example of the Airbus A400M Atlas airlifter was in the static display for the show days. It was a UK Royal Air Force (RAF) example that had arrived via Georgia and the Philippines and was heading on to Japan, the USA and Canada before returning to RAF Brize Norton. It had brought out the RAF Falcons parachute display team who made several drops from RoKAF CH-47D Chinooks.