The first FA-50 fighter jet, a model of which was on display at Baghdad's International Fair for Defence and Security, will be delivered to the Republic of Korea Air Force this week. (AFP / Getty Images)
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SEOUL — The FA-50, a light attack aircraft modified from the T-50 supersonic trainer jet, is set to begin service with the Republic of Korea Air Force this week, according to the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA).
The first FA-50 will be delivered Tuesday, with 59 more units to be delivered by 2016. The combat aircraft are replacing four-decade-old F-5E/Fs.
“FA-50s will replace the close-air support mission that has been conducted by F-5E/Fs,” an Air Force spokesman said. “Fitted with the Link-16 data link, in particular, the FA-50 is expected to carry out joint successful operations with US fighter aircraft as well as the country’s ground and naval forces.”
The Air Force has about 120 F-5E/Fs, all of which will be decommissioned by 2019.
The FA-50 is equipped with Elta Systems’ EL/M-2032 pulse Doppler radar that has a detection range of 100 kilometers. The aircraft is armed with air-to-air/air-to-surface missiles and machine guns, as well as precision-guided bombs, including joint direct-attack munitions and sensor-fused weapons.
The deployment of FA-50s will boost the country’s arms export drive as the performance of the light combat jet are proven, according to officials of Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), which built the T-50 in partnership with Lockheed Martin.
“Many countries in Southeast Asia and South America show keen interest in light combat aircraft rather than heavy warplanes because of their strategic needs and cost matters,” said Cha Jae-byung, manager of KAI’s T-50 development team. “FA-50 could be the right answer to those needs and some of the nations in the regions are finding the FA-50 enormously attractive.”
Negotiations are underway with the Philippines for 12 FA-50s. The value of is estimated at $460 million, according to KAI officials.
Iraq and Peru are also believed to be among the potential customers for the new jet.
KAI officials said they aim to sell about 1,000 FA-50s and T-50s over the next three decades, with KAI and Lockheed Martin planning to compete for the US Air Force T-X program for at least 300 aircraft.
Indonesia was the first T-50 customer, with a 2011 order for 12 T-50i jets, an FA-50 version for the Indonesian Air Force.