Korea to build twin-engine aircraft

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Korea to build twin-engine aircraft

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff yesterday announced its decision to develop a twin-engine aircraft for its next-generation fighter jet programs, code-named KF-X or Boramae, despite controversy over the cost and the risk of manufacturing a high-tech plane alone.

Choi Yoon-hee, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, held a meeting with the heads of South Korea’s Army, Navy, and Air Force to decide which type of engine the nation’s indigenous fighter jet should have, Eom Hyo-sik, a Joint Chiefs of Staff official, said at a briefing yesterday

On July 5, the Ministry of National Defense advised the Joint Chiefs of Staff to adopt a two-engine fighter jet program, which the Air Force also wanted based on its own evaluation reports.

The new jets are expected to be superior to the aging KF-16s, Korea’s main fleet of defense aircraft, in terms of their radar and other electronic device abilities.

While a single-engine jet is advantageous in terms of manufacturing and maintenance cost, a double-engine jet is superior in operation capability and efficiency, the Defense Ministry said in the report.

The cost to develop 120 two-engine jets is 27 trillion won ($26 billion) in total, including maintenance costs for the next 30 years. A single-engine aircraft would cost 22.2 trillion to develop and maintain, the military said.

Despite the additional cost for developing the two-engine planes, Eom said the military concluded it needed a superior fighter jet for operation efficiency and for the country’s national defense.

According to the military, a two-engine fighter aircraft could load more weapons because it would have more pounds of thrust - about 44,000 - and therefore would have more power to carry weight than a single-engine plane, which has about 32,000 pounds of thrust. The maximum speed of a double-engine jet is also Mach 1.97, higher than the single’s 1.89.

The 10-year project initially aimed to replace the aging KF-15s by 2023. But the military postponed the schedule for completion to 2025 because it will take at least 10 years and six months to develop them.

After completion, about 120 jets will be provided to the Korean Air Force, with an additional 50 going to Indonesia, a primary partner in the development program.

Seoul officials told reporters yesterday that they expect Korea’s indigenous twin-engine fighter jets to be exported for a high price - about 80 billion won each based on a local report. The maximum number of the finished exported jets would be about 200, officials said.

Previously, the state-run Defense Acquisition Program Administration asked the military to adopt a single-engine jet.

DAPA officials said it would be easier and cheaper to develop the single-engine aircraft, despite the fact it has less capability than a double-engine plane, because the Korea Aerospace Industries, the state-controlled organization in charge of indigenous fighter jets, has experience building the single-engine FA-40 jet.

Analysts from the state-run Korea Institute for Defense Analyses also raised concerns that Korea would have fewer fighter jets than planned if it adopts the expensive two-engine aircraft.

BY KIM HEE-JIN [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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