Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) has disclosed its interest in developing a carrier-based version of its 4.5-generation KF-21 multirole fighter. The KF-21N model was shown publicly for the first time at the DX Korea 2022 exhibition held from September 21 to 25.
However, KAI officials told AMR that the development of the KF-21N will be entirely dependent on the intentions of the Republic of Korea Navy (RoKN) to purchase the dedicated aircraft carrier, noting that the company will be able to start production of the Navy-type aircraft carrier. Aircraft “in a few years”.
According to company specifications, the KF-21N will be powered by two General Electric F414 engines – the same type of engines that power the baseline KF-21 – which will allow it to reach its expected maximum speed of Mach 1.6. While the navalized design features a similar physical profile, it is clearly distinguished by its larger size, measuring 17.1 m and 5.2 m in length and height (from 16.9 m and 4.7 m).
In particular, the KF-21N’s folded wings will be expanded by approximately 20% to generate more lift and enhance overall stability, a method that enables it to take off in short takeoff but stop recovery (STOBAR) or catapult assisted takeoffs. Case Operation – Takeoff But Captured and Recovered (CATOBAR) type aircraft carrier.
According to the official, other modifications to the baseline land-based aircraft design will include strengthening the fuselage and landing gear to withstand the rigors of carrier-based launch and recovery operations, as well as integrating a brake hook for landing maneuvers.
The KF-21N model also shows a full weapons loadout with two Diehl IRIS-Ts and four MDBA Meteor-to-air missiles. A pair of hypersonic long-range air-to-surface cruise missiles – believed to be developed by the government-owned Defense Development Agency (ADD) program – were also integrated, although the company would not comment further on future weapons.
South Korea has revealed a plan to develop a short take-off vertical landing (STOVL) aircraft carrier for South Korea in 2021 under the CVX program by 2033. By September of that year, an industry partnership had been formed – namely Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI) and Babcock International, while DSME worked with Fincantieri and Hanjin Heavy Industries & Construction. However, the expectation at the time was that the CVX would use the STOVL Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter.
However, General Kim Seung-kyun, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the South Korean Armed Forces, told local media on Sept. 19 that the country would consider building a larger and more capable aircraft carrier than the initially proposed CVX design.
“If the KF-21N receives funding, its goal is to address such a request,” the KAI official said.
The KF-21 is a multi-role platform that will replace the aging F-4D/E Phantom II and F-5E/F Tiger II aircraft of the Republic of Korea Air Force (RoKAF). By 2032, the ROK Air Force expects to procure more than 300 aircraft.
KAI earlier said that the initial production aircraft will be optimized for air-to-air combat and have limited air-to-ground capability. It will feature three hardpoints under each wing for weapons and/or external fuel storage, while missiles can also be carried externally under the fuselage. However, the mass-produced aircraft will be fully capable of performing both mission sets. Low-rate initial production is expected to begin in 2026, with full-rate production starting in 2028.
by Jr Ng