Hornets for Korea-NOT!

Last revised April 17, 2000

In the late 1980s, the Republic of Korea held a competition for its next fighter aircraft. The F/A-18C Hornet was announced as the winner of the Korean Fighter Program contest in December of 1989. The Hornet had experienced stiff competition from the F-16, a type which was already in service with the Republic of Korea Air Force. Among the attractive features of the Hornet was its twin-engined safety and its ability to carry out maritime anti-shipping missions. In addition, the South Korean government regarded the adverse-weather performance of the F/A-18 as being superior to that of the F-16, which meant that it would be better equipped to carry out poor-weather interceptions. Also, since at that time the F/A-18 was able to carry a forward-looking infra-red pod but the F-16 was not, it was thought that the Hornet would be more effective than the F-16 against North Korea's fleet of Antonov An-2 fabric-covered biplanes which have a very small radar cross section but which could be spotted via infrared. Finally, the Koreans felt that the F/A-18 would be more capable than the F-16 against North Korean MiG-29s in air-to-air combat.

120 Hornets were ordered. According to the original plan, the first 12 Hornets for the Republic of Korea were to be manufactured by McDonnell, with 36 Hornets then being assembled by Samsung Aerospace Industries at Sachon from kits supplied by McDonnell. The final 72 were to be manufactured from scratch under license at Samsung. 27 F404-GE-402 turbofans were be supplied by General Electric, with Samsung building 10 engines from General Electric-supplied components, and 144 being wholly manufactured in Korea.

However, the 120 Hornets planned for Korea underwent a series of increases in cost and by early 1991 they were 50 percent more expensive than when initially ordered. By March of 1991 the South Korean government was so unhappy about the whole F/A-18 deal that they decided to switch to the competing General Dynamics F-16C. The revised contract duplicated the original Hornet contract in many respects, with an initial delivery of 12 F-16s provided from the USA, followed by 36 kits for assembly by Samsung, and 72 more being built entirely at Samsung. One advantage of the change in contract is that there will be an additional commonality with the 40 F-16C/Ds already in RoKAF service.


  1. Hornet, Robert F. Dorr, World Air Power Journal, Spring 1990, p. 38.

  2. McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Since 1920: Volume II, Rene J. Francillon, Naval Institute Press, 1990.

  3. Vespidae Varius--Recent Variations in the Hornet Family, Paul Jackson, Air International, December 1993, p. 301