South Korea's deal to sell a variant of the T-50 trainer to Iraq is the country's biggest weapons sale. (Lockheed Martin)
SEOUL — South Korea’s largest-ever export deal will send 24 light attack aircraft to Iraq as Seoul expands its footprint in the global trainer jet market.
The deal includes the US $1.1 billion purchase of 24 FA-50 aircraft from Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), to be built in Korea and delivered in 2016-17. It also includes an anticipated 25-year, $1-billion follow-on contract to provide logistics and training support to the Iraqi Air Force. The $2.1 billion total makes it South Korea’s largest arms-export deal to date.
A variant of the T-50 supersonic trainer aircraft jointly built by Lockheed Martin, the FA-50 beat out the BAE Systems Hawk-128, Yakovlev Yak-130 and Aero Vodochody L-159. KAI calls the Iraq version the T-50IQ.
“The deal with Iraq will pave the way for exporting more T-50 aircraft to the Middle East, following Southeast Asia and South America,” KAI spokesman Lee Myung-hwan said.
“The T-50 can be used not only as an advanced trainer aircraft but also a light attack jet,” Lee said. “That’s why the T-50 is getting popular in the global aircraft market, especially with countries seeking to have advanced, low-class fighter jets.”
“Lockheed Martin is pleased to hear the news of the contract signing by Iraq to purchase 24 T-50IQ aircraft,” said a company statement. “The T-50 is the world premier advanced jet trainer and provides seamless transition into 4th and 5th generation fighters.”
Powered by a single General Electric F404 engine, the FA-50 can be armed with air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles and machine guns. It is also equipped to drop precision-guided bombs such as joint direct attack munitions and sensor-fuzed weapons.
With the help of Israel’s Elta System’s EL/M-2032 Pulse Doppler radar, the aircraft can detect targets 100 kilometers away.
The South Korean Air Force is buying 60 FA-50s by 2016 to replace F-5s in close-air support missions.
A 2011 deal sent 16 FA-50 aircraft to Indonesia, while the company exported its KT-1 basic trainer aircraft to Indonesia, Turkey and Peru.
KAI is pushing for T-50 deals with the Philippines, Botswana, the United Arab Emirates and Chile. The T-50 is also a contender for the US Air Force’s T-X trainer jet competition for at least 350 aircraft.
“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 on Dec. 12. “We will make every effort to help the Iraqi Air Force operate the T-50IQ without difficulties.”
Ha said his company aims to sell at least 1,000 advanced trainer aircraft worldwide in order to secure 30 percent of the global trainer jet market.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki hailed the deal “as a starting point” to improve the performance of the Iraqi security forces in order to defend the war-torn country from terrorist groups.
“This deal will improve the performances of the Ministries of Defense and Interior in defending the country and in fighting terrorism,” the prime minister said. “We have come a long way on the road to completing our Air Force, and we will continue in this direction to protect Iraq against any aggression.”
Baghdad is buying 36 US F-16 fighters as part of efforts to modernize its Air Force. The T-50 is a twin-pilot training plane reminiscent in design characteristics of the F-16.
“The T-50 is the ideal training aircraft for the F-16 and even fifth-generation F-35 Lightning II fighters,” Kim Dae-young, a research member of the Korea Defense & Security Forum, said. “T-50 is expected to help shape the future direction of Iraq’s aircrew training system for the next two or three decades.”
The aircraft’s digital systems can easily be upgraded and adapted to suit emerging training needs over its service life, generating long-term cost savings, he said. ■