South Korea has decided to adopt a double-engine platform for its indigenous warplane project, which would boost combat capabilities and ensure long-term economic feasibility, the Defense Ministry said Friday.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff reached the decision to take the C-130 twin-engine platform over the single-engine one, putting an end to a long-drawn-out heated debate, according to the ministry.
Under the so-called KFX program for developing and producing the home-built fighter jets, South Korea seeks to deploy some 120 fighters of F-16 class to replace its aging fleets of F-4s and F-5s.
“It is true that the dual-engine platform costs more, but the military needs to secure fighter jets with execllent performance to ensure operational efficiency,” a senior defense ministry official said, asking not to be named.
“We’ve factored in such security circumstances as the belligerent North Korea and relevant moves by China and Japan,” he said, noting that the decision was based upon 14 criteria.
The double-engine type “also makes it possible to improve the fighter’s performance down the road in an easier fashion,” according to a JCS officer.
“Our goal in the future is to develop 2,000-pound (900-kilogram) bombs and attach them to the fighter,” he added.
The Air Force, along with the Agency for Defense Development, has been in support of the two-engine concept, which is expected to boost the aircraft’s combat capabilities by carrying more weapons and fuel, long-term economic feasibility, and the safety of pilots.
In contrast, those favoring a single-engine C-501 platform, including Korea Aerospace Industries, a potential bidder in the KFX program, and the state-run Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, have said their version has a competitive edge in the global market as it carries a low price tag.
“As the envisioned jets will be used for more than 40 years, combat capabilities should come first. In around the late 2030s, we also need to replace KF-16 fighters, which will lead us to the mass production of the new fighters and to cost reduction,” he added.
Though how much it will cost for the development of the indigenous aircraft varies according to different analyses, KIDA said the double-engine platform would cost 8.5 trillion won ($8.24 billion) and the single-engine one 6.7 trillion won.
“Continued efforts to reduce cost by localization would give us a competitive edge in exports, I believe,” a Defense Acquisition Program Administration official said.
Friday’s confirmation of the required operational capabilities for the jet is expected to further speed up the process of the long-delayed project. It was first envisioned in 2001 and pushed for in earnest in 2010.
“Within the next month, we are to finalize the bidding plan and wrap up the negotiations over its joint development with Indonesia. After signing a contract by the end of this year, we will begin the development in December,” the DAPA official said.
Indonesia joined South Korea for the project, vowing to meet 20 percent of the costs. The Seoul government is planning to begin deploying the home-grown aircraft for operations around 2025. (Yonhap)