SEOUL — South Korean and Spanish defense officials are to discuss a possible trade of trainer and transport aircraft, according to arms procurement officials and industry sources in the Asian nation.
The deal may involve about 50 basic and advanced trainer jets built by Korea Aerospace Industries, or KAI, and four to six Airbus A400M airlifters, they said.
“South Korea and Spain plan to hold a joint defense industry committee in Madrid this month to discuss bilateral issues,” said an official with the Defense Acquisition Program Administration, speaking on condition of anonymity. “The swap deal is not an official agenda item on the table, but the sides are open to discussing it.”
The proposal was made by Spain during the Farnborough International Airshow in the U.K. last July, as the Spanish Air Force seeks to replace its older trainer fleet of Chilean ENAER T-35C Pillan jets, according to an industry source privy to the potential swap deal.
“Spain ordered 27 A400M transport aircraft from Airbus but has decided not to use 13 of them, so the Spanish defense authorities have got approval from Airbus to sell the surplus products to other countries,” the source said. “Spain wants to sell four to six A400Ms to South Korea, and it buys 34 KT-1 basic trainer aircraft and 20 more T-50 supersonic trainer jets for advanced pilot training if possible.”
If the deal is reached, Spain is willing to sell the A400M plane at 15 percent of the per-unit price of some $27 million, he said, adding the total value of the swap deal could be approximately $890 million.
The envisaged deal could be a breakthrough for KAI to sell more of its trainer aircraft after its recent defeat in a U.S. Air Force trainer competition.
“Any swap deal is delegated to the DAPA and its Spanish counterpart, and we’re waiting on the results,” a KAI spokesman said.
Airbus would not discuss the prospect of such a deal.
Industry sources believe the proposed deal could meet the South Korean Air Force’s need of acquiring larger airlifters for longer-range missions.
During an Oct. 19 parliamentary inspection of the Air Force, the service revealed a plan to procure four more large transport aircraft in addition to its existing fleet of CN-235 and C-130 planes.
“We have a plan to deploy larger transport aircraft to increase our capacity of rapid force deployment, emergency relief, peacekeeping and other operations over long distances,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Lee Wang-keun said in a report to lawmakers.
Preliminary research on the requirements of the larger airlifter acquisition will be conducted between 2019 and 2020 before a request for proposal is issued for full operational capability by 2022, according to Air Force officials.
The A400M Atlas is regarded as a strong candidate for the airlift procurement program, as the C-17 Globemaster III production line run by Boeing is shut down. The A400M can carry 116 fully equipped troops and up to 66 stretchers accompanied by 25 medical personnel.
Jeff Jeong was the South Korea correspondent for Defense News.