South Korean defense company Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI) is aiming to export its combat jets and helicopters, including the KF-21 stealth fighter jet, to the Middle East, the company’s CEO Kang Goo-young said.
Speaking at the IDEX defense exhibition in Abu Dhabi on February 21, 2023, the CEO said one of the main priorities for KAI is continuing with the MC-X, a joint project to develop a twin-engine military transport aircraft, according to a report published by The Korean Herald.
A memorandum of understanding regarding the KF-X was signed between KAI and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in January 2023.
The CEO added that the budget and the scale of the project have not yet been determined, although it is expected to take 12 years, eight of which will be used for system development.
He also added that the UAE had “explored” South Korean fighter jets and found them to have fewer armament limitations compared to United States- and French-made aircraft.
A rising industry
South Korea currently produces the T-50 Golden Eagle, a supersonic trainer aircraft, which also has a light fighter variant called the FA-50.
The jet is considered an export success and has been purchased by numerous countries, including Indonesia, Iraq, Thailand and the Philippines. In 2022 Poland announced an order for 48 FA-50s, marking the largest foreign combat aircraft order for the jet.
KAI is also currently developing the KF-21 Boramae, a 4.5 generation fighter jet with stealth characteristics. The first prototype of the jet took off in July 2022, and three more prototypes have conducted flight tests since then, with KAI aiming to start mass production in 2026.
In search of capabilities
The fighter fleet of the United Arab Emirates Air Force (UAEAF) is mostly composed of US-made General Dynamics F-16E Fighting Falcons as well as older Dassault Mirage 2000s.
In December 2021 the UAE ordered 80 Dassault Rafales in the largest international order for the type.
However, the country has also been attempting to purchase the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II, the latest US-made fifth-generation fighter jet. The sale of the jet has not been approved by the US, and resulted in a diplomatic back-and-forth in 2021.
The UAE also signed a deal with Russia to develop a joint fighter jet, which may have led to the creation of the Sukhoi Checkmate, an upcoming fighter jet, presented by Russia in 2021 and heavily marketed towards Middle Eastern countries.