[4.0] F-16 Derivatives: Ching Kuo / F-2 / Golden Eagle

v1.0.0 / 4 of 4 / 01 apr 03 / greg goebel / public domain

* Given the widespread use of the F-16, it is not surprising that it has led to a number of international derivatives, indirectly or directly based on the F-16 design. All these machines were developed in the Far East, and include the Taiwanese "Ching Kuo Indigenous Fighter", the Japanese "Mitsubishi F-2", and the South Korean "Golden Eagle". This chapter provides a quick description of these aircraft.

[4.3] KAI T-50 / A-50 GOLDEN EAGLE


* The Taiwanese Aero Industry Development Center's (AIDC) "Ching Kuo", is essentially a new aircraft that clearly differs from the F-16, but equally clearly owes much to the F-16 design. In the mid-1970s, America's strong support of Taiwan began to waver as the US worked on a rapprochement with mainland China, and Taiwan also began to realize that mainland Chinese pressure to discourage nations from exporting weapons to Taiwan was proving highly effective. The mainland Chinese were introducing improved aircraft, most notably the J-7 copy of the Soviet MiG-21, and Taiwan needed new, superior fighters to meet the threat.

Taiwan's existing fighter assets included the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter and the Northrop F-5. The Taiwanese were particularly fond of the F-5, since it was effective, easy to fly and maintain, and inexpensive to obtain and operate. They were interested in obtaining Northrop's much-improved F-20 Tigershark derivative, but the US government blocked the sale, as well as purchase of the F-20's rival, the General Dynamics F-16. The Taiwanese government decided that the only available option was to build their own fighter.

This decision was influenced by the fact that the US imposed very few restrictions on technical support to Taiwan, as well as the island nation's interest in improving its industrial technology base and increasing exports. Preliminary design studies for a Taiwanese "Indigenous Fighter" began in 1980, followed by a formal program launch in 1982.

The design was formalized in 1985, with major assistance from a team of General Dynamics engineers working under a $50 million USD contract. AIDC also received assistance from other US aerospace firms, including Menasco, Garrett, Westinghouse, Bendix/King, and Lear Astronics.

Four prototypes were built, including three single-seat machines and one tandem-seat machine. The first prototype performed its initial flight on 28 May 1989. The first prototype suffered an embarrassing landing accident on 29 October 1989, when its front landing gear collapsed in front of Taiwanese President Lee Tung Hui and the press. The damage was not critical and was quickly repaired.

The type received the formal name of "Ching Kuo" in honor of former Taiwanese president Chiang Ching Kuo. The tandem-seat version was intended for operational conversion and proficiency training, but is combat-capable.

* From the side, the Ching Kuo has a certain general resemblance to the Northrop F-5, with some flavor of the F-5's descendant, the F/A-18 Hornet. From the top, the resemblance to the F-16 is obvious and it could be easily mistaken for an F-16 from such an angle. The arrangement of flight surfaces is very similar, with a wedge-style wing featuring LERXes and some wing-body blending, a single vertical tailfin, and all-moving horizontal tailplanes.

The most visible difference is that the Ching Kuo has two engines instead of one. It is powered by twin Garrett TFE1042-70 afterburning turbofans, with dry thrust of 27.0 kN (2,748 kgp / 6,060 lbf) and afterburning thrust of 42.3 kN (4,308 kgp / 9,500 lbf) each, and the elliptical intakes are under the wing roots, not under the fuselage. The TFE1042 is an afterburning derivative of the TFE731 turbofan, which is used on a variety of business jets and jet trainers, and it is believed that this engine was partly selected on the basis that its procurement wouldn't raise a "red flag" to the mainland Chinese. The engines are actually built by a Taiwan-based partnership between Garrett and AIDC, the "International Turbine Engine Company (ITEC)".

Garrett also supplies an interesting combined "auxiliary power unit / emergency power unit (APU/EPU)" for the Ching Kuo. The APU takes a little time to come up to speed, and so if there's a massive power failure the quick-start EPU fires up to sustain power until the APU comes up to speed.

Even with two engines, the total thrust is only about two-thirds that of the F-16's P&W F100 engine, but the Ching Kuo is smaller than the F-16, being more the scale of an F-5. In fact, the best way to think of the Ching Kuo is as a next-generation F-5, based on F-16 technology. It is about 50% heavier than an F-5E but with twice the thrust.

The Ching Kuo is of conventional construction, made most of aircraft aluminum alloys. Steel is used in some high-stress or high-temperature areas, while titanium is used for the jetpipes, and graphite-epoxy composite was introduced following initial production for fin and tailplane skins, access panels, and a few other items. The fighter features a dual-redundant hydraulic system and dual-redundant fuel-supply system, with fuel tanks in the fuselage and wings. The fuel tanks are pressurized by inert Halon gas to reduce fire hazard.

The Ching Kuo has tricycle landing gear of clearly lighter construction than that of the F-16, as the Taiwanese fighter is not meant to operate from rough airstrips and is not intended to carry as heavy an offensive warload. All three landing gear assemblies retract forward, with the main gear wheels pivoting to lie flat in the fuselage.

   _____________________   _________________   _______________________
   spec                    metric              english
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

   wingspan                9.46 meters         31 feet
   length                  14.21 meters        46 feet 7 inches
   height                  4.65 meters         5 feet 3 inches

   empty weight            6,486 kilograms     14,300 pounds
   normal takeoff weight   9,525 kilograms     21,000 pounds
   max takeoff weight      12,247 kilograms    27,000 pounds

   max speed at altitude   1,275 KPH           792 MPH / 688 KT
   service ceiling         16,760 meters       55,000 feet
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

   Span is over wingtip missile rails.
   Length is with nose probe.
   Max speed is in "clean" configuration.
The Ching Kuo is armed with a single General Electric M61A1 cannon, mounted just as on the F-16 in the left wing root, with 515 rounds of ammunition. The fighter has nine stores attachments, including a centerline pylon; two missile recesses under the fuselage, which can't be used if the centerline pylon is fitted with a store such as an external tank; two pylons under each wing; and an AAM launch rail on each wingtip. The centerline and inner wing pylons are "wet" and can carry external tanks, either 1,041 liter (275 US gallon) tanks similar to those carried by the F-5E, or smaller 568 liter (150 US gallon) tanks.

The Ching Kuo's primary role is air combat, and it can carry the "Tien Chen 1 (Sky Sword 1)" AAM, a Sidewinder-class weapon, or the "Tien Chien 2" AAM, a Sparrow-class weapon. Surface attack is a secondary role, with a particular emphasis on antiship attack using the the "Hsiung Feng (Brave Wind)" antiship missile, a Harpoon-like weapon apparently developed with Israeli assistance. Other possible attack stores include the AGM-65 Maverick ASM, iron bombs, cluster munition canisters, and unguided 70 millimeter (2.75 inch) unguided rocket pods. Maximum external warload is 4,080 kilograms (9,000 pounds).

The Ching Kuo's primary sensor system is the Golden Dragon 53 (GD-53) radar, which is derived from the General Electric AN/APG-67(V) radar, developed for the F-20 Tigershark, with some features of the Westinghouse AN/APG-66 of the F-16A. The Golden Dragon 53 has modes for air-to-air and air-to-surface combat, with look-down / shoot-down capability, and a range of 150 kilometers (93 miles).

Other important avionics subsystems include a Lear-Siegler flight computer; a Honeywell inertial navigation system; and a radar homing and warning unit. The fighter has a digital fly-by-wire system, with an independent triple-redundant analog fly-by-wire system. Avionics are linked by twin redundant MIL-STD 1553B digital data buses.

The cockpit layout is similar to that of an F-16, featuring a Bendix-King wide-angle HUD; twin multifunction displays (MFDs); and a sidestick controller on the right and a throttle on the left, studded with "hands on throttle and stick (HOTAS)" controls. The original MFDs were monochrome, but later production may have color displays.

The pilot sits on a Martin Baker Mark 12 zero-zero ejection seat. As with the F-16, the seat is canted back 30 degrees. The canopy is blasted off as a unit by rocket thrusters before ejection. The cockpit is designed for Taiwanese pilots and is something of a tight fit by Western standards.

The canopy for the single-seat Ching Kuo hinges up from the rear as a single unit. The canopy for the tandem-seat Ching Kuo hinges to the left side. The tandem-seat Ching Kuo is a minimal conversion of the single-seat variant, with no change in external dimensions and the second seat accommodated by removing a fuselage fuel tank. The rear seat is not raised, giving the back-seater a poor view forward.

* Initial service deliveries of the Ching Kuo were in 1994, but by this time the obstacles against Taiwanese weapons imports had eased and the nation was able to obtain modern fighters from other countries. As a result, production of the Ching Kuo was limited to 130 machines, most of them single-seaters, but with a small number of two-seaters.

Original plans had been to acquire 420 Ching Kuos, with the smaller production run unsurprisingly raising unit price sharply. AIDC has proposed a number of subvariants, such as an optimized lead-in trainer, dedicated attack aircraft, and reconnaissance variant, but these versions are not likely to ever happen. Upgrades for existing Ching Kuos are a possibility, however.

The jury seems to be out on the Ching Kuo. Some sources judge it too limited and underpowered, others suggest that it is an excellent implementation of a true lightweight fighter, comparable to the Swedish SAAB 39 Gripen fighter, and could potentially have done well on the export market. What is clear is that it is a very neat and attractive machine.



* In contrast to the Ching Kuo, the Japanese Mitsubishi "F-2" fighter is clearly a true member of the F-16 family. It began in 1982 as an intent by the Japan Defense Agency (JDA) to obtain a replacement for the existing Mitsubishi F-1 fighter, which had been judged an interim type and was only built in limited numbers. The replacement was to be a much more capable aircraft, with a primary focus on antiship and strike roles and a secondary focus on air combat. The effort crystallized under the designation of "Fighter Support X (FS-X)".

As it turned out, improved estimates of the useful service life of F-1 airframes showed that the type could be kept in service for longer than anticipated and so pressure for a replacement declined. It did not evaporate however, and the JDA considered either obtaining the FS-X from Japanese industry or buying it from a foreign manufacturer.

The JDA considered the General Dynamics F-16, the McDonnell Douglas F-18, and the Panavia Tornado as possible foreign FS-X solutions. In late 1985, the JDA sent a request to the three foreign manufacturers to see if their aircraft could fit Japanese needs. The request specified a fighter with a maximum warload of four Japanese ASM-1 antiship missiles and two to four short-range AAMs in the strike role, or two to four medium-range AAMs with some other mix of weapons in the air combat role. The aircraft was to have all-weather combat avionics and an operational radius of 834 kilometers (518 miles / 450 nautical miles) in the antiship strike role.

The three companies replied in early 1986. The JDA examined the responses and then replied that none of the foreign solutions met Japanese needs, and that a Japanese-built machine was the only solution.

* Then the trouble started. The reaction of the manufacturers was that they'd been had. They'd been handed a "lockout spec" that was designed from the start only to exclude them and announce a Japanese-built machine as the winner. The US, German, and Italian governments registered strong complaints with the Japanese government.

The pressure from the US was intense. Americans were feeling very sore and touchy about Japanese economic might at the time, in particular objecting to what was seen as one-sided Japanese trade policies. Americans perceived a decision by the Japanese to develop their own first-line fighter as at the least a snub to American aircraft exports, or at the most an attempt to acquire another domain where Japan could compete internationally with American products.

The second concern was overblown, since the Japanese constitution blocks exports of weapons, and Japanese aerospace / defense programs have a notorious history of turning out mediocre products that cost multiples of the same or better item available from another country. However, the fact that the Japanese were willing to build their own fighter instead of buying a cheaper and possibly better American machine did lend some weight to the feeling of being snubbed and the perception of one-sided Japanese trade policies.

In the spring of 1986, the JDA went through the exercise with the foreign manufacturers again, asking if they could provide variants of their machines that could meet the FS-X specification. All three came back with various proposals that summer. By this time, the favored solution was to co-develop an aircraft with the US. The Americans had the most political clout in Japan, and the long tradition of Japanese license production of US combat aircraft made a relationship with a US company preferable to one with a European manufacturer.

The JDA sent a team to the US to investigate possible FS-X solutions, including the F-16, F-15, and F-18. To make a long story short, the Tornado was quickly eliminated, and on 21 October 1987 the decision was announced to develop a modified version of the F-16C/D, based on the GD "Agile Falcon" concept with a larger composite wing. The new aircraft was to be built by a collaboration between Japanese and American companies.

* On the surface, this seemed to be a good deal for both sides, since the US would obtain economic benefits from the arrangement while Japan would be able to reduce development time and cost by leveraging off existing technology. Unfortunately the barking across the Pacific only seemed to get louder, becoming a lunatic comedy. Americans accused the Japanese of trying to steal US expertise, while Japanese accused the Americans of dumping second-rate technology on them.

In the 1990s, as the F-2 program got underway, Japan ran into persistent economic difficulties, with the Americans gradually doing an about-face from outrage over Japanese trade policies to pressure on Japan to institute economic reforms and get their economy back on track. There were still tensions between the two nations, unsurprising given their cultural differences, but the overblown public quarrels faded into the background. The international controversy over the F-2 was forgotten.

That was one of the few problems with the whole program that seemed to resolve itself, since the supposed benefits of leveraging off an existing aircraft design didn't work out. In fact, the F-2 program turned into a classic Japanese defense-aerospace program, with development problems, long delays, and cost escalation. The F-2 that emerged costs three to four times as much as its F-16 parent.

The traditional difficulties of the Japanese in developing advanced weapon systems are a bit puzzling, given the fact that the Japanese are famous for sophisticated, top-class, low-cost consumer and industrial products. It seems to be due in part because of the country's antimilitaristic mentality, one particularly important aspect of this being the law against exports of weapons, which necessarily limits production volumes and so raises unit cost.

The Japanese government also suffers from a traditional addiction to "pork barrel" projects, and in the case of the F-2, the politically-driven US-Japan manufacturing arrangement did nothing to encourage efficiency. Another factor is a "chicken and egg" situation, with Japanese defense industries lacking experience in building complicated weapon systems, and never able to generate a "critical mass" that could get them up the learning curve.

* In any case, the first F-2 prototype performed its first flight on 7 July 1995. Four prototypes were built, including two "XF-2A" single-seaters and two "XF-2B" tandem-seaters. Late in that year the Japanese government authorized the production of a 83 F-2As and 47 F-2Bs for a total of 130 aircraft. First deliveries were to be in 1999, but due to various difficulties the date slipped out to 2001.

The general configuration of the F-2 is all but identical to that of the F-16, and it takes a trained eye to distinguish the two aircraft. The F-2 does have clear differences, in that its wing has 25% greater area than that of the F-16 and a span increased by 1.68 meters (5 feet 6 inches); a tailplane assembly that is about 20% larger than that of an F-16; and a slight fuselage stretch to accommodate increased fuel capacity and new avionics.

The nose contours are also subtly different, giving the F-2 a more "duckbilled" appearance relative to the F-16. The F-2 was supposed to have twin fins under the engine intake, apparently something like the fins on the AFTI F-16, but these fins were deleted in the final design definition. The F-2 also has a brake chute, and the long brake chute fairing at the base of the tail is another distinctive identifying item.

Some of the changes are less visible. The wing is of all-composite construction, with leading edges incorporating radar-absorbent material (RAM), and F-2 is one of the first aircraft to be fitted with an AESA radar. The radar is built by Mitsubishi and has modes for air-to-air and air-to-surface combat, as well as navigation.

The F-2 does retain the F-16's engine, being powered by an F110-GE-129 turbofan with 75.6 kN (7,710 kgp / 17,000 lbf) dry thrust and 131 kN (13,380 kgp / 29,500 lbf) afterburning thrust. Like the F-16, it also features a built-in 20 millimeter Vulcan Gatling cannon in the left wing root, though it is a JM61A1 built in Japan under license and not built by GE. Ammunition capacity is 512 rounds.

The F-2's new wing allows it to carry a greater external warload of up to 8,085 kilograms (17,824 pounds). The F-2 is typically fitted with three stores pylons under each wing, along with launch rail on each wingtip for an AAM and a centerline pylon, but can also be fitted with an additional pylon just inboard of each wingtip, for a total of 11 stores attachments. The centerline pylon is wet and can be used to carry a 1,136 liter (300 US gallon) tank, while the inner pylon on each wing is wet and can be used to carry a 2,271 liter (600 US gallon) tank. There is no provision for inflight refueling. The Japanese do not have any dedicated tanker aircraft and it seems unlikely that they have buddy tanker packs, since that might imply an offensive posture.

   _____________________   _________________   _______________________
   spec                    metric              english
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

   wingspan                10.8 meters         35 feet 5 inches
   length                  15.52 meters        50 feet 11 inches
   height                  4.69 meters         14 feet 5 inches

   empty weight            9,527 kilograms     21,003 pounds
   combat takeoff weight   20,517 kilograms    45,231 pounds
   MTO weight              22,100 kilograms    48,721 pounds

   max speed at altitude   2,125 KPH           1,320 MPH / 1,145 KT
   combat radius           835 kilometers      520 MI / 835 NMI
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

   Wingspan is with missile launch rails.

Typical stores for air combat include the AIM-7F/M Sparrow and AIM-9L Sidewinder AAMs, both built under license in Japan, and the Japanese AAM-3, which is essentially an improved Sidewinder. There are currently no plans to carry the AIM-120 AMRAAM or the comparable Japanese AAM-4, now in development, but it remains a future possibility. Air-to-surface stores include heat-seeking bombs, which the Japanese have developed as an alternative to laser-guided bombs, and the solid-fuel ASM-1 antiship missile and its jet-powered successor, the ASM-2. Incidentally, the Japanese refer to these as "anti-landing craft missiles" to emphasize their defensive posture, though this hardly means they can't be used on other targets.

The cockpit features a holographic head-up display, three Yokogawa multifunction displays, and typical F-16 HOTAS / sidestick controller layout. The pilot sits on a US-built ACES II ejection seat, and the canopy has been strengthened relative to the F-16's. Oxygen is provided by an on-board oxygen generating system (OBOGS).

The F-2 features a triple redundant digital FBW control system with a one-level analog backup, developed by Japan Aviation Electronics and Bendix/King. A navigation suite is included, with an inertial navigation system, TACAN, radar altimeter, and other kit, though it doesn't seem to include a GPS receiver. The pilot can track his location though moving-map displays. The fighter features a sophisticated countermeasures suite that is mostly classified, but includes both passive warning systems and active defenses, including jammers and chaff-flare dispensers.

The two-seat F-2B is were intended for operational conversion and proficiency training, but is fully combat capable. The back seat layout is similar to the front seat layout, though it lacks a HUD and some auxiliary controls. Fuel capacity was cut by 685 liters (181 US gallons) to accommodate the second seat.


[4.3] KAI T-50 / A-50 GOLDEN EAGLE

* The most recent derivative of the F-16 to fly is the Korean Aircraft Industries "Golden Eagle", which is basically an 80% scale version of the F-16. The Golden Eagle is being developed as the "T-50" tandem-seat trainer and the "A-50" fighter.

South Korea has been developing its military aircraft industry for decades. By the early 1990s the big Samsung conglomerate was building Lockheed F-16 Fighting Falcons under license, as discussed in an earlier chapter.

The Falcon is an excellent modern combat aircraft, but of course Samsung wanted to look beyond it to development and manufacture of their own aircraft designs. Their work on the F-16 gave them a place to start from, and their relationship with Lockheed gave them access to decades of expertise.

Formal work on a next-generation aircraft began in 1992, focusing on a tandem-seat combat-capable trainer to replace the Republic of Korea Air Force's (ROKAF) BAE Hawk 67 and Northrop T-38 jet trainers. Samsung worked closely with Lockheed on the design. By 1995 Samsung had hammered out the basic outline of what was then known as the "KTX-2", but the company was unable to find risk-sharing partners at the time. Asian economic troubles further slowed the effort.

However, the South Korean government gave the green light on the project on 3 July 1997, with Samsung and Lockheed Martin, signing an agreement later in the month. As the KTX-2 project was a major commitment of resources, Samsung linked up with Hyundai and Daewoo aerospace interests to form Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI) to build the aircraft. Costs for the program were $2 billion USD, with the South Korean government picking up 70% of the bill, KAI 17%, and Lockheed Martin 17%.

Formal work began in October 1997. The basic configuration of the KTX-2 was frozen a year later, with work then focusing on detailed structure and systems design. In February 2000, KAI announced at the Asian Aerospace Exhibition that the KTX-2 had been renamed the "T-50 / A-50 Golden Eagle". Work on the first prototype began in the summer of 2000.

In November 2000, following earlier marketing agreements for the aircraft, KAI and Lockheed Martin formally created the "T-50 International" company to sell the aircraft on the world market.

* The Golden Eagle is not only smaller than the F-16, it clearly differs in appearance in that it has an engine intake under each wing root, not a single intake under the belly, giving it appearance somewhere in between the F-16 and the Taiwanese Ching Kuo fighter.

   KAI T-50 / A-50 GOLDEN EAGLE:
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________
   spec                    metric              english
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

   wingspan                9.17 meters         30 feet 1 inch
   length                  13.13 meters        43 feet 1 inch
   height                  4.90 meters         16 feet 1 inch

   empty weight            6,440 kilograms     14,200 pounds
   loaded weight           11,975 kilograms    26,400 pounds

   max speed at altitude   Mach 1.4
   service ceiling         14,630 meters       48,000 feet
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

The Golden Eagle is powered by a General Electric F404-GE-402 afterburning turbofan engine, of the same family of engine as used on the twin-engine F/A-18 Hornet, with FADEC and 78.8 kN (8,030 kgp / 17,700 lbf) of thrust.

The A-50 will have AN/APG-67 radar and an internally-mounted 20 millimeter GE M61 Vulcan cannon. The aircraft will have a centerline stores pylon and two stores pylons under each wing for drop tanks, Mark 82 / 83 "slick" bombs, or AGM-65 Maverick missiles, and the ability to carry Sidewinder air-to-air missiles on the wingtips.

The development program involves the production of two static-test aircraft, two T-50 flight-test prototypes, and two A-50 flight-test prototypes. The first T-50 flight-test prototype was rolled out in the fall of 2001, with initial flight on 20 August 2002, and the second prototype followed it into the air on 8 November 2002. The Golden Eagle is expected to go into full production in 2003 and reach ROKAF operational service in 2005, a year after KAI ends license production of the F-16. Production will continue to at least 2010.

The ROKAF expects to obtain 94 Golden Eagles, half of them T-50s and the other half A-50s, and possibly may obtain 100 more later. KAI and Lockheed Martin hope to sell 600 to 800 more on the export market. Price is expected to be on the order of $20 million USD.



* For lack of a better place to mention this, the Vermont ANG "Green Mountain Boys", a serious group of F-16 operators, built a little three-wheel scooter in the shape of an F-16. It even has dummy Sidewinders on the wingtips. It looks like tremendous fun to play around in.

* I should point out that different sources give slightly different descriptions of F-16 block numbers, and also that exports of the fighter are a very confusing subject as well as a moving target. I am certain that there will be some tweaks on those subjects in later revisions of this document.

* Sources include:

Other data on the Golden Eagle was obtained from the German FLUG REVUE magazine website, incidentally an excellent and highly recommended source of information.

* Revision history:

   v1.0.0 / 01 apr 03 / gvg
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