|Saab Offers Supercruising Stealth to South Korea
Aviation Week & Space Technology
07/07/2008 , page 32
South Korea’s combat aircraft requirement draws out advanced proposals from Western fighter houses
A Saab proposal to co-develop a stealth fighter with South Korea is raising the prospect of an Asian-European aircraft emerging to compete with the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning.
The South Korean project to build an advanced combat aircraft alternatively offers to fund developments of the Eurofighter Typhoon or to help sustain Boeing’s waning fighter business—but there is also a strong chance that the ambitious program will collapse into yet another F-35 order.
Saab is pitching a new design for a supercruising stealth fighter to South Korea, as well offering the possibility of joining the Gripen next-generation program (AW&ST June 30, p. 42).
Boeing is putting forward developments of the F-15, including reviving a 1990s concept without tail fins, and it has also offered a new fighter design.
EADS is pushing developments of the Typhoon beyond the Tranche 3 standard, and also flagging the opportunity of participating in its combat drone project. It may also have submitted a clean-sheet-of-paper fighter concept.
Lockheed Martin meanwhile is telling Seoul that the F-35 Lightning will meet its needs. That’s not surprising, since it has no business interest in supporting South Korean ambitions to co-develop a stealth fighter, which would surely become an F-35 competitor.
The diverse range of offerings from the four manufacturers reflects uncertainty in South Korea itself over combat aircraft development. The air force wants an advanced fighter, but various factions in the government, industry and military are debating whether the country should fill that requirement by buying off the shelf or by taking part in development of a new aircraft or major derivative.
The country has two substantive fighter requirements, F-X Phase III for 60 aircraft and then F-XX for 120. It also has a parallel domestic stealth fighter development program, KFX. The F-XX requirement calls for fifth-generation aircraft, so the hope is that KFX will fill that need through a joint program between South Korean and foreign industry, with the latter carrying up to 30% of the development cost.
But KFX is up for review this month by the administration of new President Lee Myung-bak. It may be canceled or restricted to co-production or assembly of an existing aircraft, boosting Lockheed Martin’s hopes of an order for the F-35. An intermediate possibility would be South Korean involvement in less advanced developments of current production aircraft.
The manufacturers presented their ideas at an air force seminar in Seoul on June 26.
Saab has circulated two series of designs for South Korea, for single and twin aircraft, recent iterations of which have been designated P305 and P306, respectively. Its presentation at the seminar showed only the twin-engine design, probably reflecting South Korean views on how large an aircraft is needed. The air force’s Warfare Development Group has described the KFX as having a capability between that of the F-15 and F-16. By “capability” it must mean weight and thrust class, since a new stealth aircraft would be much more capable than even updates of the 1970s designs.
Saab gave no specifications for its design but the external weapons shown on a drawing suggested an aircraft length of 17-18 meters (56-59 ft.). Span is much less than the length, possibly about 12 meters. If those rough estimates are correct, then the Saab stealth fighter would be at least as large as the Typhoon.
Saab shows single- and tandem-seat versions of the design. Inlet configuration is similar to the F-22’s, and the tail fins are canted. The trailing edge of the main-plane is swept forward, again like the F-22’s, but the leading edge looks significantly less swept. A gun is mounted abreast the left inlet duct.
The manufacturer promotes the aircraft as a balanced multirole design offering broadband stealth, supercruise, “range and endurance,” integrated sensors, avionics and weapons, and situational awareness through the human-machine interface. It also claims attractive “low life-cycle cost, growth potential [and] exportability,” while dismissing “extreme stealth” as “suitable for tailored platforms.”
Internal weapons stowage seems to be limited, since Saab says the bays are optimized for the air superiority role, although it still describes the aircraft as multirole in high-threat scenarios. External stores would be carried for low-threat scenarios. One of the three bays is behind the pit and between the inlets, and the other two are in the lower corners of the fuselage under the wing.
With domestic development, “upgrades and changes to the aircraft can be implemented according to Republic of Korea Air Force priorities without interference by [the] seller’s government, etc.,” Saab ar