South Korea’s KAI KF-X

ImageThe United States currently maintains several stealth aircraft programs, from the aging F-117 Nighthawk and B-2 Spirit to the F-22 Raptor and the mess that is the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. However, other countries such as the Russian Federation are developing the PAK FA, India developing the HAL FGFA, and the People’s Republic of China currently developing both the Shenyang J-31 and the Chengdu J-20. With Russia, India and China all developing stealth fighters it would seem America could be at a disadvantage in the Pacific; aside from one of the US’s strongest allies in the region, the Republic of Korea, or South Korea (Where over 28,500 US soldiers are stationed) developing their own stealth fighter, the KAI KF-X.

Being developed by Korea Aerospace Industries, the KF-X fighter is planned as a single-engine and single-seat fighter aircraft that will have stealth capabilities and is planned to replacing the older aircraft utilized by the Daehanminguk Gong-gun (Republic of Korea Air Force) such as the American F-5 Tiger and F-4 Phantom. Its appearance and design will be vaguely similar to the F-16 Falcon, although it will be manufactured independently and intended for both South Korea and Indonesia, a country with very good relations to South Korea. The KAI KF-X has had some designs depicting it with one rear wing (Like the F-16) while newer designs depict it with two rear wings, more like the F-35.

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Russian PAK FA stealth fighter

The ROKAF has turned down several other foreign-made aircraft, including the Russian Su-35, PAK FA, the French Dassault Rafale and the American F-15SE Silent Eagle, an F-15 Eagle upgraded to increase the stealth capabilities of the aircraft. The KF-X is planned to make its first flight sometime in 2021, and even though that places it behind other stealth aircraft being developed (The PAK FA, J-20 and J-31 have all made their first flights) that would give South Korea an immense advantage over its northern neighbor the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or North Korea, whose air force mostly consists of very outdated Chinese and Soviet designs, with the most advanced aircraft believed to be the MiG-29 Fulcrum.

Aside from situations involving North Korea, such as the crisis beginning in the Spring of 2013 in which North Korea threatened South Korea, the United States and Japan with nuclear attack, there was also the Senkaku Islands dispute between China and Japan and the recent air defense identification zone set up by China which overlaps with the Korean Air Defense Identification Zone (KADIZ) near Jeju Island. These issues highlight that South Korea needs an effective stealth fighter to maintain its security in the face of issues between China, Russia, Japan, the United States and North Korea. Not to say stealth aircraft are invisible or totally invincible, as a US F-117 was shot down over Yugoslavia; however they are effective, especially when compared to out-of-date aircraft such as that used by North Korea.

Inside of South Korea, there is much political pressure against developing the KAI KF-X as an indigenous aircraft, and other programs such as social welfare will most likely redirect much funds away from KAI, although the KF-X will most likely continue in development unless an alternative aircraft can be found, especially in the uncertain geopolitical climate of east Asia.

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