With its own carrier-based fighter design, South Korea is looking to overhaul its naval plans

Korean defense firm KAI shows a fighter model. (Andrew White for Breaking Defense)

SEOUL — The Republic of Korea has taken a major step in the months-long redesign of its future aircraft carrier by unveiling a new deck-based version of its future indigenous fighter jet.

Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI) used this week’s DX Korea show in Seoul to show off a scale model of the KF-21N, the naval version of the next-generation KF-21 fighter, formerly known as the KF-X program.

But the push for a naval version of the jet would likely not have happened had it not been for a series of decisions dating back to May, when the Ministry of National Defense (MND) decided to end funding in 2023 for the planned small aircraft carrier, known as the CVX. Conceived as a next-generation amphibious assault ship for the RoK Navy, the CVX will have the added capability of operating fixed-wing aircraft, including jet fighters. The ship was scheduled to be commissioned in 2033.

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After deciding not to fund the CVX, the ROK announced it was changing long-standing plans to acquire a short-takeoff, vertical-landing variant of the F-35B that would launch with the CVX. Instead, MND announced the purchase of 20 conventional F-35As.

All became clear on Monday this week when General Kim Seung-kyum, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Republic of Korea, informed the National Defense Committee that the MoD would consider acquiring a larger aircraft carrier than the previously proposed CVX project if the naval jet fighter could be developed independently. .

“We need to make serious changes [to CVX]so these changes will be evaluated together,” Kim said, referring to MND’s pursuit of a medium-sized aircraft carrier instead of the lighter CVX-class amphibious assault ship.

“There is a difference of opinion as to whether the aircraft on board should be developed domestically. CVX has been excluded from next year’s defense budget because we want to carefully reassess key assets so they can be designed to adequately respond to threats,” Kim added.

According to a KAI representative, the KF-21N is currently in the preliminary design concept stage, which is not surprising given the fact that the Republic of Korea Navy does not currently operate an aircraft carrier. (For his part, Kim said the KF-21 would not have STOVL.)

A KAI representative confirmed to Breaking Defense that the KF-21N will have a folding wing design that allows it to be stored below deck aboard the carrier. The airframe will also be capable of CATOBAR (catapult-assisted take-off but aborted exit) and STOBAR (short take-off but aborted exit) operations aboard an aircraft carrier, the spokesman said.

The KF-21N has a pair of General Electric F414 turbofan engines, each capable of producing 22,000 pounds of thrust. This will give the KF-21N a top speed of 1.6M. – added the representative of KAI.

In addition, the KF-21N will have a maximum take-off weight of 25,600 kg and a maximum available payload of 7,620 kg. It will also measure 17.1m in length, 5.2m in height and 12.3m in width, according to company documents.

A KAI representative also suggested to Breaking Defense that the design, development and production of the KF-21N technology demonstrator will be heavily dependent on “government” decision makers.

Meanwhile, KAI also showcased a scaled-down model of its KF-21 Baramaye multirole fighter. The KF-21 recently completed its maiden flight in July. The airframe is supposed to replace the aging fleet of McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II and Northrop F-5 aircraft of the Air Force of the Republic of Kazakhstan. With its own carrier-based fighter design, South Korea is looking to overhaul its naval plans

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