The Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) signed a contract with Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), Monday, to develop the nation's first indigenous fighter jet with technologies to be provided by Lockheed Martin.
Initially, the arms agency planned to develop fighter jets by 2025 to replace the Air Force's aging fleet of F-4s and F-5s. However, the targeted year for development was pushed back by one year due to the controversy over the technology transfer, officials said.
DAPA spokesman Col. Kim Si-cheol said that according to the contract, KAI will manufacture six test planes and finish system development for the indigenous jets by June 2026. It also aims to produce 120 fighter jets by 2032.
"We estimate 10.5 years for system development for the KF-X. The project is expected to be completed by the first half of the year 2026 and the production process will be able to start from the second half of that year," Kim said.
Following the contract with DAPA, KAI is set to select an engine provider for fighter jets and work on their design and component production.
KAI, the nation's sole aircraft maker, was selected as the preferred bidder for the project over Korean Air in March this year.
The official said that the contract is based on a provisional deal signed between KAI and Indonesia on Nov. 22, under which the Southeast Asian country will bear 20 percent of the system development cost associated with the KF-X project. One of the six test planes will be delivered to Indonesia, according to the deal.
DAPA plans to launch a task force to facilitate the project on Jan. 1 next year which will include 70-80 officials and experts. The head of the task force will be hired through an open selection process, they said.
The contract between DAPA and KAI came after the U.S. government approved the transfer of 21 technologies used in Lockheed Martin's F-35 stealth fighter to Korea. The fighter jet development program has been in jeopardy due to uncertainties over the technology transfers from the United States.
A transfer of a total of 25 technologies was included in an offset deal with Lockheed in return for Korea's purchase of 40 F-35s, signed in September last year. However, Washington refused in April to allow Lockheed to hand over four core technologies, including the active electronically scanned array radar, to Korea for security reasons. This fueled skepticism over the feasibility of the project.
Concerns still remain over whether Seoul will be able to fully receive specific sub-technologies needed for the project and can localize technologies that are disallowed by the U.S.
The project is expected to cost over 18 trillion won ($15.85 billion) with 8.5 trillion won for system development and an extra 10 trillion won for the production of 120 jets.