South Korea's deal to sell a variant of the T-50 trainer to Iraq is the country's biggest weapon sale. (Lockheed Martin)
SEOUL — South Korea has signed a deal to export 24 light fighter jets to Iraq for $1.1 billion, Seoul’s largest arms sale in history.
Under the deal, Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) will deliver 24 FA-50 jets to the Iraqi Air Force between 2015 and 2016. The FA-50 is a light attack variant of the T-50 Golden Eagle supersonic trainer aircraft jointly built by Lockheed Martin. The Iraq export version is named the T-50IQ.
The FA-50 beat the Hawk-128 by BAE Systems, the Yak-130 by Yakovlev of Russia and the L-159 by Aero Vodochody of the Czech Republic.
“The deal with Iraq will pave the way for exporting more T-50 aircraft to the Middle East following Asia, Europe and South America,” a KAI spokesman said.
“The T-50, which can be used both as a trainer jet or light attack aircraft, is becoming popular in the global aircraft market, as many countries are pushing for purchasing new jets to replace their low-class jets,” he said.
KAI previously exported 16 FA-50 aircraft to Indonesia and is seeking deals with the Philippines, Botswana the United Arab Emirates and Chile.
The FA-50 is armed with air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles and machine guns, as well as precision-guided bombs, such as joint direct-attack munitions and sensor-fused weapons.
Fitted with Israel’s Elta System’s EL/M-2032 Pulse Doppler radar with a detection range of 100 kilometers, the aircraft is suitable for close-air support missions.
In addition to the aircraft deal, KAI is scheduled to sign a $1 billion contract to provide T-50 logistics and training support to Iraq for the next 25 years, which will push the total value of the Iraq deal to $2.1 billion, according to KAI.
“South Korea’s aerospace industry has shown its competitiveness in the world market and its export potential,” KAI Chairman Ha Sung-yong told reporters after a signing ceremony in Baghdad Dec. 12. “We will make every effort to help the Iraqi Air Force operate the T-50IQ without difficulties.”
Iraq’s T-50 order comes as the Middle East nation is buying 36 F-16 fighter jets to help rebuild its air power.
“This deal will improve the performance of the Ministries of Defense and Interior in defending the country and in fighting terrorism,” the office of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said in a statement.