South Korea has insisted that Indonesia is still committed to the KF-X fighter jet program, jointly initiated by the two nations, amid reports of Jakarta looking to procure French-made Dassault Rafales and Boeing’s latest F-15EX fighter jets.
The KF-X program envisages the production of an advanced multi-role fighter jet that would replace South Korea’s aging F-4D/E Phantom II and F-5E/F Tiger II fighters.
The KF-X program, which is also known as ‘Boramae’ (Korean for ‘Hawk’), is scheduled to be completed by the end of the current decade. Around the same time, the sixth-generation fighter jets will enter the market.
However, the KF-X fighters will not be categorized as the sixth-gen or the fifth-generation aircraft like the US’ F-35s and F-22 Raptors, and the Russian Su-57s.
They will rather be developed as 4.5 generation fighters and will be on a par with the Swedish Gripens, the Eurofighter Typhoons, Boeing Super Hornet Block III, and the French Rafales.
KF-X partner Indonesia has been on the lookout for a new fighter in order to boost their aerial fleet and improve their attacking options, especially keeping in mind the turbulent times and the highly-contested region of the South China Sea.
In December 2020, the French media had reported Jakarta’s interest in purchasing around 48 Rafale fighter jets. French Defence Minister Florence Parly was quoted as saying that the deal for 48 fighters with Indonesia is in a “very well advanced” stage.
On the other hand, it was also reported that Jakarta had discussions with US officials regarding the potential purchase of the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and F-15EX fighter jets.
As per reports, Indonesia, which had abandoned its long-running plan of purchasing 11 Su-35 fighter jets from Russia out of the fear of US sanctions, had also shown interest in acquiring Eurofighters and Lockheed Martin’s F-16 Vipers.
Amid these reports, South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration has clarified that Jakarta is still committed to the KF-X program and that links to other fighter jets are another matter altogether.
“F-15EX and [Rafale] introduction plan is a separate issue from the joint development of KF-X as an activity to reinforce the Indonesian Air Force,” according to the statement issued by DAPA.
DAPA also added that South Korea has continued to hold discussions regarding the KF-X program with Indonesia, which stands as a 20% partner in the program.
The statements from DAPA come in response to Indonesian Chief of Air Staff Fadjar Prasetyo’s reported statement, saying that the country’s air force was planning to purchase 36 Rafales and eight F-15EX fighters by 2024.
Regardless of Indonesia’s reported interest in acquiring Western fighter jets like the Rafales and F-15EXs, there is speculation that Jakarta might even pull out of the KF-X fighter jet program due to the massive costs involved in it.
It is also reported that Jakarta may also choose to renegotiate the terms of the project with Seoul. Indonesia is said to be far behind on payments in the W8.8 trillion ($7.9 billion) program for the advanced fighters.
According to reports, the fighter’s production at the Korea Aerospace Industries is set to go as scheduled. The aerospace firm will complete the prototype by April 2021, fly it in 2022 before beginning the actual production in 2026.
This is basically because of what the 4.5 generation fighter jet will offer in comparison to its contemporaries. Although the fighter jet will not be categorized as a fifth-generation fighter, it will possess the qualities of fighters belonging to the next-generation.
The KF-X will have a reduced radar cross-section just like the US F-35 stealth fighters, to improve its stealth.
According to defense expert Sébastien Roblin, the KF-X fighter is claimed to have a target radar cross-section of .5 meters squared, which is of the same ballpark as the Eurofighter Typhoon or Swedish Gripen.