For new jet, it’s a dogfight between KAI and KAL

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For new jet, it’s a dogfight between KAI and KAL

State-funded Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) and the country’s largest commercial airliner, Korean Air (KAL), will compete against each other to win the country’s largest-ever project to develop new mid-level fighter jets.

KAL will team up with Airbus Defence and Space, builder of the Eurofighters, to bid on the project, code-named KF-X, a source from Korean Air said Thursday.

“We already had an agreement with Airbus Defence and Space,” the official said. “We will sign a memorandum of understanding very soon to participate in the bid [on Monday].” Airbus Defence and Space is the defense and aerospace arm of the Airbus Group, formed in 2014 from the former EADS divisions Airbus Military, Astrium and Cassidian.

First announced in 2001, the KF-X project was initiated to produce new multirole fighters with more advanced capabilities than the U.S.-built F-16s. The new combat aircraft will be known as 4.5-generation fighter jets, while the 40 F-35s stealth fighter jets that Korea has decided to purchase are considered fifth generation.

The government decided to invest a total of 18.1 trillion won ($16.94 billion) including 8.5 trillion won for development on the KF-X project, the largest-ever procurement program in the country’s history.

While debates continued until recently on the specifications of the engines for the jets, the Joint Chiefs of Staff recently decided that the KF-X jets will be twin-engine aircraft.

Competing against KAL and its partner is KAI, which will team up with Lockheed Martin of the United States, which was selected to provide F-35s under the F-X project.

The Defense Acquisition Program Administration said it will receive bidding proposals by Monday, conduct a preliminary evaluation and select one of them as the preferred bidder next month.

After negotiating terms with the preferred bidder, the procurement agency will hold a meeting later this year to make the final selection.

The competition is expected to be fierce. KAI has experience of developing T-50 advanced jet trainers, while Korean Air has a stronger investment ability, although it has no experience in developing fighter jets.

Transfer of technology is expected to be a key issue in the bidding, and that could put KAL, which teamed up with European defense contractor, in an advantageous position. KAI, which partnered with Lockheed Martin, may have a little room to maneuver on technology transfer because the deal will be regulated by the Foreign Military Sales program of the Pentagon.


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