Date set for flight test to verify AESA radar performance for KF-21 fighter jet


[Courtesy of the Defense Acquisition Program Administration]

SEOUL — A flight test to verify the performance of a computer-controlled array antenna system for South Korea’s KF-21 fighter jet will begin in domestic airspace in mid-March at help from a redesigned B-737 aircraft. The system is an essential device for identifying enemy aircraft in air warfare and finding ground targets.

Active Electronically Scanned Radars (AESA) can electronically steer the beam of radio waves to point in different directions, allowing aircraft to emit strong radar signals while remaining stealthy. AESA radars can broadcast signal broadcasts over a wider range of frequencies, allowing aircraft to emit strong radar signals while remaining stealthy.

A KF-21 AESA radar-equipped test aircraft carried out a flight test overseas in 2021. The domestic test will run until April next year before a KF- 21 installed with the system won’t proceed to the final stage of evaluation until the first half of 2026, according to the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA), a state arms procurement agency. controlled by the Ministry of Defence.

Approximately 62 items will be tested over a total of 50 flights, as well as testing of an air-to-air mode sensing and tracking function and design verification of synthetic property radar (SAR) image acquisition . SAR is a form of radar used to create two-dimensional images or three-dimensional reconstructions of objects, such as landscapes.

“The performance of the KF-21 AESA radar will be more stabilized through indoor flight testing,” Roh Ji-man, a DAPA official in charge of the KF-21 project, said in a statement on March 4. American companies such as Lockheed Martin have been involved in the KF-X project, but Washington has been reluctant to transfer key technologies for stealth fighters and an advanced radar system, prompting South Korea to acquire related technologies independently or in cooperation with other foreign companies.

The state-run Agency for Defense Development (ADD) and Hanwha Systems, a supplier of defense products and technologies, were involved in the development of AESA and automatic tracking and terrain avoidance that allow high-tech aircraft to perform more difficult enemy radar detection by flying low and safely along terrain.

The first AESA prototype was unveiled in 2020 and sent to ELTA Systems, an Israeli defense products supplier, for ground and flight testing. In 2021, South Korea deployed the first KF-21 prototype installed with an AESA system, after nearly two decades of hard work to shake the dubious or sometimes disparaging eyes of top-tier foreign aircraft manufacturers,

The KF-21 project aims to manufacture 120 fighter jets that would replace South Korea’s aging fleet of US-made F-4 and F-5 fighters. Specifications outlined by Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), the only aircraft manufacturer in South Korea, showed the fighter’s top speed to be Mach 1.81 with a range of 2,900 kilometers (1,798 miles). With a maximum payload of 7.7 tons, 10 “pods” for missiles and fuel barrels are installed on the bottom of the fuselage and wings.

South Korea still faces challenges such as developing a long-range missile system and missile seekers to track ground and air targets. The German IRIS-T and MBDA’s Meteor were selected for short- and medium-range air-to-air missiles. As for the long-range air-to-surface weapon, South Korea has been pushing for the development of its air-launched cruise missile (ALCM) by 2028.

AESA technology can be applied to other military equipment. South Korea has embarked on the development of an in-house close-in weapons system (CIWS) that would be used to defend next-generation destroyers and other warships against incoming threats such as small boats rapids, surface torpedoes, missiles and helicopters penetrating the outer defenses.

CIWS has two types. A gun-based system typically consists of a combination of radars, computers, and rapid-firing multiple-barrel rotary cannons placed on a rotating turret. A missile-based system uses either passive infrared radar or semi-active radar terminal guidance to guide missiles.

Through cooperation with unspecified foreign companies, DAPA aims to acquire core technologies for a close-in weapons system capable of neutralizing supersonic or sea-shaving missiles and high-speed ships entering its mission area. South Korean warships used foreign systems such as Goalkeeper, a Dutch system developed by Thales, and Phalanx, an American system developed by Raytheon.

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