Revised December 4, 2013. See bottom of the page for the complete revision history
The Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) has been trying to sell their Kfirs to the Philippine Air Force since the 1990s, towards the end of President Cory Aquino’s term and all throughout President Fidel Ramos’ term when the Philippines bought a lot of military equipment, but to no avail. As of this writing, President Noynoy Aquino had indicated that the procurement for the Korean Aerospace Industries’ (KAI) FA-50 Golden Eagle (or Geagle) are in its final stages, hence the chances of the Kfir ending up in our inventory is now even more slim. Just out of curiousity, though, I decided to compare the Kfir to the Geagle, see how it fares on a one on one comparison.
The Kfir is based on the Mirage III/5 delta-winged aircraft whose blueprints were stolen by the Mossad (as is now detailed in various spy books and articles), and is described as an all-weather, Multi-Role Fighter aircraft. It first entered service in 1975 and saw extensive combat duty with the Israeli Air Force (IAF) before finally being retired by the IAF in 1996. Currently the air forces of Colombia, Equador and Sri Lanka are still operating the aircraft.
All Kfirs being sold now are taken from the mothballed stocks of the IAF, but are refurbished and upgraded with advanced avionics. The latest version in the market is the “Block 60” armed with an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, the EL/M-2052. IAI is selling this new version with a 40-year manufacturer’s guarantee for the low price of only USD 20 million each, which would be cheaper than the FA-50 Golden Eagles.
The FA-50 is made by the South Korea’s “Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI)”, and is a smaller, license-built version of the F-16 Fighter aircraft. It is intended as a Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) which can also be used as a Lead-In Fighter Trainer (LIFT) for more advanced aircraft, and will enter South Korean Air Force service starting 2014. As of this time, the Philippine Air Force is (still) negotiating for the final procurement of the FA-50 into service. At an estimated price of USD 38 million per unit for the Philippine contract, the Geagle is more expensive than the Kfir.
For the “Maneuverability” and “Payload and Range” sections, the following considerations were made:
– Weights with 100% internal fuel was used to try to simulate the aircraft going into combat with full internal fuel after dropping their External Fuel Tanks.
– The weights of the armaments were not included as the RATIOS and DIFFERENCES BETWEEN BOTH AIRCRAFT will remain the same if they will be armed with the same type and same number of armaments.
– Fuel density of 0.81 kg/l was used to convert fuel capacity to kilograms
– Data for each aircraft was derived from various websites at .
For both aircraft’s maneuvering capability, I am looking at their WING LOADING* and THRUST TO WEIGHT RATIO.* I would’ve wanted to take a look at more aspects like Stalling Speed, Maximum Alpha, etc., but those data are hard to come by for both aircraft. Hence, these should suffice for now. Remember that a lower Wing Loading means the aircraft can turn tighter and vice-versa, and a higher Thrust-to-Weight Ratio means the aircraft can go faster going straight up or straight down and vice-versa.
– WING LOADING: Favors the Kfir with a large 28% lower wing loading compared to the Geagle
– THRUST TO WEIGHT RATIO: Slight 8% advantage for the Geagle in terms of TTWR
+++ Typical of true delta-wing designs based on Dassault’s Mirages, the Kfir has a huge wing for its given size and weight, giving it a much lower wing loading and thus better turning radius in the horizontal plane. Overall maneuverability when you factor in the differences in wing loading and TTWR shows that the Kfir is the more maneuverable aircraft.
‘Payload and Range’
For Range, I am using INTERNAL FUEL FRACTION (INTFF)* as a rough indicator how far each aircraft can go based on the internal fuel available to them.
The Kfir’s IntFF value was multiplied by 0.87 to reflect the estimated 13% more fuel consumption of its J79 Turbojet engines as compared to the FA-50’s more efficient F404 Turbofan engines. For more explanation of this, refer to a special section at the bottom page**
– INTFF: Favors the Geagle indicating it will travel 26% farther on its own internal fuel than the Kfir
– PAYLOAD: Favors the Kfir as it can carry 79% (2,908 kg) more load than the Geagle
+++ Here again the Kfir benefits from its large delta wing, enabling it to carry much more load than the Geagle, although it can only do so at a much shorter range by virtue of its lower INTFF and less efficient Turbojet engine.
‘Air Combat-related Avionics and Weapons’
Here I am comparing the capability of both aircrafts in terms of Within Visual Range (WVR) and Beyond Visual Range (BVR) air combat thru their Avionics and Weapons available to them. Just some notes, though:
– The Geagle’s Radar Cross-Section (RCS) is only ASSUMED to be 80% that of the F-16 as no reliable data is available for it, and that the Geagle is about 80% the size of the F-16.
– RCS data are for “clean” aircraft, with no armaments or fuel tanks
– No solid references for the RCS and detection ranges for the Kfir B60. RCS is taken from an obscure internet reference, while detection range is just estimated to be 25% higher than the detection range of the EL/M-2032 radar.
– Other data were taken from this website:
– WVR COMBAT: The Geagle is at an extreme disadvantage as it does not have the default mandatory avionics nowadays to be competitive in close-range air combat like a Helmet Mounted Sight and High Off-Boresight missiles
– BVR COMBAT: Favors the Kfir as the Geagle does not have the capability to use medium range air to air missiles yet. Radar detection range is pretty much even, though, not that it will help the Geagle much without those BVR missiles.
+++ The Geagle has a smaller RCS but has a less powerful radar, while the Kfir has a slightly more powerful radar but a bigger RCS also. Although the Kfir’s RCS and radar detection range data are just speculative, I think a fair assessment is that it can at least match the Geagle in terms of detection range. I suspect that the Kfir’s EL/M-2052 AESA radar has much better actual performance that stated above, but unless better data becomes available then we will just have to live with these numbers for now.
The data so far shows that the Kfir Block 60 is the more capable aircraft overall. In the end, though, the reason for not getting the Kfir may not be based on its capability and performance, but more on our ability to maintain them. Even if these aircraft are refurbished, they still will not be as durable as brand new aircraft and hence will require more replacement of parts. And therein lies the problem because our process for releasing funds for procurement tend to be VERY SLOW.
Funds need to be released on time and frequently because if not, the aircraft are grounded until they can be fixed, resulting in less units in service for the PhAF. We’ve already seen this happen to so many of our aircraft: Three dozen F-5A/B Freedom Fighters bought since 1965, and all were retired by 2005 while over a dozen air forces around the world are still keeping their F-5s in the air all the way to 2020. Another example are the 25 S-211s bought in 1989 of which now only three are in flyable condition.
The same thing will happen with these FA-50s: We will be able to use them while they are new, but after 1 or 1 1/2 decades when they start breaking down we will end up having less and less flyable aircraft in our inventory, just as it had been before, and then we will again start to look to buy brand new aircraft.
The Philippines is in a unique situation where we want brand new equipment since they are easier to maintain, and yet many such equipments are beyond our budget. We can afford second-hand, refurbished equipment, but for aircraft we cannot afford its more frequent maintenance requirements. Hence we end up making a compromise of buying brand new but less capable aircraft.
The Kfir Block 60 is superior to the Geagle in almost every way, whether it is maneuverability, payload, range, avionics and weapons. The Kfir’s only major deficiency is its expected shorter range due to its use of an older turbojet engine instead of a newer and more efficient turbofan engine. As for the Geagle, contrary to KAI’s claims I don’t think it can be considered as an LCA due to its deficiencies, not in this day and age, anyway.
In fact, the way things look now is that the Geagle would best serve as a Intermediate or Lead In Fighter Trainer (LIFT) FOR aircraft like the Kfir. Hence ideally, we could get the Geagle as a LIFT, and then have the Kfir Block 60 as our main combat aircraft.
However, unless our ability to release money for the procurement of items on a regular basis improves, I don’t think we will be able to afford refurbished aircraft like the Kfir in our inventory as aircraft in general need more STRINGENT maintenance requirements than most military equipment. If an aircraft fails, it won’t fly, or worse it will fly and then fail in the air, possibly causing death and destruction. But if we can get around that problem, then the Kfir would be a good, decent, and passable choice for the Philippine Air Force (PhAF) as its main Combat Aircraft.
 PH buying SK fighter jets, http://globalnation.inquirer.net/88187/aquino-ph-close-to-finalizing-deal-on-purchase-of-korean-fighter-jets
 The ‘Paper Planes’ Caper, http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1144&dat=19781022&id=nVcdAAAAIBAJ&sjid=qlkEAAAAIBAJ&pg=4758,3332381
 IAI Kfir, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IAI_Kfir
 Israel Aerospace Industries Marketing ‘Pre-Owned’ Kfir Fighter Jets to Eastern Europe, Latin America, http://www.algemeiner.com/2013/08/07/israel-aerospace-industries-marketing-pre-owned-kfir-fighter-jets-to-eastern-europe-latin-america/
 FA-50 Specifications and Features, http://www.koreaaero.com/english/product/fixedwing_t-50.asp
 Army and Weapons – Deadly KAI T-50 Golden Eagle, http://deadlyweapons-army.blogspot.com/2011/11/deadly-kai-t-50-golden-eagle.html
 KAI FA-50, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iXauYBgqnHw
 F-21 Kfir, IAI, http://www.fighter-planes.com/info/kfir.htm
 Fighter Mig-21 Fishbed, http://www.enemyforces.net/aircraft/mig21.htm
 KAI contracts for serial production of the FA-50, http://www.koreaaero.com/english/pr_center/cpr_view.asp?pg=1&seq=25400&bbs=10
–> WING LOADING = is the amount of weight the wing supports during flight, and is expressed in weight per area, or in the metric system, kg/m^2. This is computed by: (Wing Area divided by Weight). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wing_loading
–> THRUST TO WEIGHT RATIO = means how much power the aircraft has compared to its weight, and is expressed by a simple number. This is computed by: (The maximum thrust of the aircraft’s engine divided by weight). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thrust_to_weight_ratio
–> INTERNAL FUEL FRACTION = is the weight of the internal fuel the aircraft compared to its maximum take-off weight, and is expressed by a simple number. Formula used is: (Maximum internal fuel capacity divided by maximum take off weight). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fuel_fraction
** The F404 engine was developed from the J79 engine. They have the same thrust rating and specific fuel consumption, but the F404 Turbofan engine is 1,470 lbs. lighter than the J79 Turbojet engine, hence the F404 is more efficient as it will need less thrust for the same amount of weight to fly in the air. To reflect this efficiency, the weight savings is divided by the dry thrust or non-afterburning thrust rating (10,900 lbs) of the engine as the aircraft operates most of the time in dry thrust. Values were taken from the book, “An Introduction to Aircraft Performance by Mario Asselin p. 51”, http://books.google.com.ph/books?id=kaqvC4e_EKcC&pg=PA51&lpg=PA51&dq=f404+compared+to+j79&source=bl&ots=BJI4siX03v&sig=Xj2mtSqwqJFCDEZQUIXxVvf9UCU&hl=en&sa=X&ei=km1iUoG-H-6eiAfHnYHoDg&ved=0CDkQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=f404%20compared%20to%20j79&f=false
* October 24, 2013: Originally posted
* November 9, 2013: Changed references and data for the FA-50 Golden Eagle as better data from the manufacturer has finally become available. Also revised some data and references for the Kfir. Some computations based on these data has also changed.
* December 4, 2013: Revised data for Avionics and weapons for the Geagle as a more accurate reference was found.