Today's small power air forces probably have the feeling of doing the equivalent of preparing for the Second World War with biplanes - and don't like it. 
The "4th" and "5th" generation fighter distinction may be mere marketing or not - plenty has changed in combat aircraft technology during the last two decades, and 30+ year old designs such as the Gripen kind of feel like 2nd class: Fine trainers and useful against inferior opposition, but unlikely to prove useful against great power air forces in the future.

KAI concept of a T-50-based LO light fighter
South Korea may be up to something really smart; a fighter which incorporates the new style at least partially, but is still modest enough to be affordable in quantity (that's the hope). The Europeans have only modern combat aircraft designs rooted in the 1980's (Typhoon, Rafale, Gripens), Russia and China aren't satisfactory suppliers to many countries (such as South Korea) and the U.S. has only a not yet finished, but already very expensive ground attack aircraft with an untested approach towards air combat on offer (F-35).

The concentration in aerospace industries and the exponential cost growth for combat aircraft development have lead to a world with very few combat aircraft designs. China works hard on adding to the list, but that's not reassuring to certain countries. Back in the 1960's a bloc-free country had the choice between plenty combat aircraft.
A list of 1960's supersonic fighters in production:

Mirage III
Freedom Fighter (F-5A/B)
Phantom II*

Today a small power can buy designs rooted in the 70's or 80's or equivalents only. It's a very unsatisfactory situation for some air forces.


*: I ignored Thunderchief, several specialised interceptors and the during the 60's obsolete first supersonic generation (MiG-19, Super Sabre, Super Mystère, Tiger). You need to draw the line somewhere.


  1. I do not think that a small country no matter what aircraft they buy can stand up to a major one. Fighters are just one part of a airforce and without the rest not sure it can hold out long.

    1. But if they got impressive numbers that might provoke the large oponent to waste effort on killing this airforce!

      I'm not sure how that would be productive though...

    2. A small smart fighter force can have a huge effect.

      It complements area air defences, forces the enemy to employ probably multi-role-capable fighters as CAP, imposes security limits on support aircraft, forces hostile bombers to carry some air combat munitions etc.

      Even a clearly superior air force could hardly sustain air dominance 24/7. A American style air force would rather use strike packages, so much of the day and night the sky would not be dominated by it. This opens windows of opportunity for air attacks on ships.

      An enemy would furthermore not be allowed to leave his air defences behind, which adds logistical issues and potential fratricide against his own returning combat aircraft.

      A squadron of capable yet not gold plated fighters can have a huge effect, and some radar low observability would greatly improve their and their base's elusiveness.

      Besides, some countries may want to have a core of competent personnel trained on modern equipment just in case they want to expand their air force later.

  2. It should be noted, that this KFX-project or its result will actually not be too far removed from all that 1980s tech, that makes up Eurofighter, Rafale or Gripen (a bit of an overstatement in itself, as most of their tech base is late 1980s/early 90s, as going by their project inception dates is very misleading).

    South Korea has no engine development program, and probably for good reason, as the Indians and Chinese with their glacial progress in that regard prove, despite throwing billions at it.

    The only genuine SK contributions to the aircraft, that fit with the "new style" will be a shaped and coated fuselage and the AESA radar (and things are far from locked in with the radar, as American upgrade radars are also a very high possibility).

    What we see here is, in essence, a new airframe incorporating an improved tech-base of the T-50 trainer/light fighter. The still-born EADS Mako comes to mind as a broadly comparable concept.

    So overall the result will not be too far away from EF and Rafale in terms of modern systems (and as its a light fighter, with some restrictions that these AC do not have) and certainly not at all a significant improvement from the Gripen, which in its NG-iteration will feature all these things except for shaping and coating.

    I am not saying any of this to discredit the South Korean defence industry. If they apply the same principles there as with their normal heavy industry, they will have a very healthy and competitive standing. But affordability, as with the T-50, will probably see a clash between aspirations and reality, and I doubt, they will have something like a Mig-21 equivalent here. What seems more likely is, that South Korea acts as a tech-base enabler for other countries in terms of participating in the project on an R&D-basis, with limited production runs to justify participation (see Indonesia, others may join further down the road, much like the K2 MBT-project with Turkey). This depends of course to a degree on how much US tech will be in the final product.

  3. In all the world how many air forces would you say are competent? When was the last death from a enemy air force on US military personal?