ADEX 2023 – KAI further details its MC-X transport aircraft programme

Paolo Valpolini

Unveiled in September 2022, at ADEX 2023 it was possible to gather more information on the MC-X programme launched by Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) for a new transport aircraft

The first hint of the MC-X programme dates back to the 2021 Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) Aerospace Conference, followed by a first public appearance of a model one year later. At ADEX 2023 KAI provided a number of details on its transport aircraft programme.

With a maximum take-off mass of around 92,000 kg the MC-X can carry 30,000 kg of payload travelling at a cruise speed of Mach 0.75 (918 km/h), at an altitude of over 10,000 metres, for 7,000 km.

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The configuration is typical of tactical cargo aircraft, with a high wing and a “T” empennage, the two turbofans providing each a thrust of over 13,600 kg (30,000 lb) each. The plane is 40.3 metres long, has a wingspan of 41.1 metres at the tip of the winglets, and is 13.5 metres tall. Its cargo bay is 17 metres long, 3.5 metres wide and 3.4 metres high. In terms of physical dimensions the MC-X stands between the Brazilian C-390 and the Japanese C2.

At ADEX 2023 more details were provided on possible payloads. Considering military equipment the MC-X can carry seven 463L pallets at full height and two low ones. It can transport a K55A1 155 mm self-propelled howitzer with two full pallets or a K21 infantry fighting vehicle, here too with two pallets, both loads being around 25 tonnes. Supporting combat aircraft deployment, the transport aircraft could carry 48 Meteor beyond-visual-range air-to-air missiles. In perspective, it will be able to carry up to 19 unmanned adaptable aerial platforms, currently under development for the future Combat Collaborative System, each of them weighing less than 150 kg.

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As for personnel, the future Korean transport will be able to seat up to 92 combat troops or 74 paratroopers. No information has yet been provided on avionics and on drop navigation systems, but it is clear that the Korean industry will provide its best solutions in that field.

ADEX 2023 also allowed getting an idea of the development roadmap for the MC-X, although the programme is still in the conceptual definition phase, a first technology call being planned for 2024.

The standard aircraft will be developed into the Block 1 cargo version capable to transport equipment and personnel, already designed to accept upgrades. A Block update will lead to the multirole configuration, MC standing for Multirole Cargo, opening the door o the integration of mission role equipment. Configurations will include aero medical evacuation, aerial refuelling with the probe and drogue system based on pods under the wings, installed under “wet” pylons, fire fighting, MUM-T for man-unmanned teaming, with the capability to launch UAVs, a specific derivative becoming a real mother aircraft from which those will be controlled. The MC-X will also be capable to support ALTO (Air Launch To Orbit) missions for lunching micro-satellites. Further derivatives being considered are a dedicated Combat-Search And Rescue variant and an aerial refuelling version, fitted with a flying boom. Since inception KAI is already thinking at a future MLU, for which new engines and an extended wing are being considered.

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The Korean airspace champion is also considering a shortened version of the MC-X, something unusual as we were mostly used to see such type of aircraft being developed in stretched versions. No data were provided on how much this version will be shorter than the standard aircraft, but the aim is to propose a smaller platform to customers that do not need the full-size aircraft but rather prefer a more flexible aircraft. Here too the baseline aircraft will be the cargo version, but with multirole capacities. This will evolve in a plane with a extended wing KAI proposing as optional a low drag empennage to increase range. The company expects this shortened version to be used for many specialised versions such as maritime patrol, airborne early warning, communications relay, signal intelligence and stand-off jamming.

A first fight can be forecasted around 2030-31, with first deliveries four years later.

Photos by P. Valpolini