SEOUL — South Korea unveiled a modified supersonic trainer jet this week to meet the key requirements of the US Air Force's multibillion-dollar trainer acquisition program starting next year.

Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) showcased its T-50's US export version, dubbed the T-X demonstrator aircraft, at its headquarters in Sacheon, about 265 miles south of Seoul.

President Park Geun-hye attended the rollout ceremony, stressing the potential export of the T-50 to the US will further enhance the Korea-US alliance.

"The T-50 export to the US could be a catalyst in further strengthening the Korea-US alliance by improving interoperability between both militaries," said Park.

The T-50 trainer jet was co-developed by KAI and Lockheed Martin, which took on 13 percent of development costs. The Fort Worth, Texas-based aircraft giant has larger roles in marketing the sophisticated aircraft in the US.

The T-X version is equipped with three key technologies required by the US Air Force, according to KAI officials.

The new variant has a single, large-screen cockpit display replacing the five smaller screens. It also has an aerial refueling capability and embedded ground training systems.

"The T-X variant fully satisfies the requirements of the US Air Force, which will go through flight trainings to prepare for F-35 missions," KAI spokesman Lee Myung-hwan said. "We will further collaborate with Lockheed Martin over the next two years in undertaking ground and flight tests of the T-X demonstrator jet."

The first phase of the T-X program is valued at about $8.4 billion and outlines a requirement for 350 aircraft to replace the aging fleet of Northrop T-38C Talon jets, which are set to retire in five years.

Should the US Air Force select the T-50, other US allies are likely to follow suit, KAI officials anticipated.

The KAI-Lockheed team will compete against a partnership between Boeing and Saab, which will offer a new aircraft design. Other competitors include BAE Systems' Hawk and Alenia Aermacchi's M-346.

"We're confident that the KAI-Lockheed team is in the upper hand in the T-X competition in terms of jet performances and technologies," KAI president Ha Sung-yong said, referring to the export success of the T-50 variants.

KAI sold 16 T-50 variants to Indonesia, 24 to Iraq, 12 to the Philippines, and the four the Thailand most recently.


Jeff Jeong was the South Korea correspondent for Defense News.