T-50 Golden Eagle
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South Korea’s T-50 Golden Eagle family offers the global marketplace a set of high-end supersonic trainer and lightweight fighter aircraft. They’re hitting the international market at a good time: just as many of the world’s jet training fleets are reaching ages of 30 years or more, and high-end fighters are pricing themselves out of reach for many countries.

The ROK’s defense industry is advancing on all fronts these days. Its shipbuilding industry, one of the world’s busiest, is beginning to turn out its own LHDs, and even high-end KDX-III AEGIS destroyers. On the armored vehicle front, Korea’s XK2 tank and K9/K10 self propelled howitzer are beginning to win export orders, and its XK-21/KNIFV amphibious infantry fighting vehicle may not be too far behind. All fill key market niches, promising performance at a comparatively inexpensive price. Now its aerospace industry is in flight abroad with the KT-1 turboprop basic trainer, complemented by the T-50 jet trainer, TA-50 LIFT advanced trainer & attack variant, and FA-50 lightweight fighter.

The TA-50 and FA-50 are especially attractive as lightweight export fighters, and the ROKAF’s own F-5E/F Tiger II and F-4 Phantom fighters are more than due for replacement. The key question for the platform is whether it can find corresponding export sales.

T/F/A-50: The Planes

T-50, 3-view
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The T-50 was developed by Korea Aerospace Industries, Ltd., with cooperation and global marketing support from Lockheed Martin. Both firms were aware that many training aircraft fleets are aging, even as higher-performance fighters demand trainer aircraft that can keep up. The Korean government needed a fleet of trainers, and saw an opportunity to give their aerospace sector a strong boost in the process. Total investment in the T-50′s RDT&E program amounted to more than $2 billion: 70% from the Korean government, 17% from KAI, and 13% from Lockheed Martin.

With a length of 43 feet and a wingspan of 30 feet, the 2-seat T-50 is about 4 feet shorter than the F-16; overall, it’s only about 80% of the F-16′s size. The relative size of the control surfaces and tails are larger, however, to improve handling characteristics at lower speeds and make the aircraft easier to land. Larger landing gear is also fitted, to absorb harder landings, which is to be expected from student pilots. Its form’s resemblances to Lockheed Martin’s F-16 are suggestive, and include the blended mid-set wing, complete with leading-edge root extensions and rear ‘shelf’ fairings ending in F-16-style split airbrakes. The air intake layout on the sides is somewhat similar to the F/A-18 Hornet or Northrop’s excellent but ill-fated F-20A Tigershark, and the aircraft is powered by the same engine: GE’s popular, reliable and fuel-efficient F404, with slight improvements over the F404-GE-402 to enhance single-engine redundancy and reliability.

The T-50 trainer carries a basic navigation / attack system, which gives it some multi-role capability. The aircraft can carry Sidewinder missiles on the wingtips, as well as fuel, rockets, or qualified bombs on its 5 underwing and center pylons. The center pylon and 2 inner underwing pylons are “wet,” and can accommodate 150 gallon fuel drop tanks.

The T-50 family’s empty weight is 14,000 pounds, and maximum takeoff gross weight is 27,700 pounds. The plane’s F404-GE-102 engine produces 17,700 pounds of thrust at afterburner. Maximum rate of climb is 39,000 feet per minute; and the maximum speed is Mach 1.5. Service ceiling is 48,500 feet, the design load factor is 8gs, and the trainer airframe is designed for up to 10,000-hour service life (8,344 hours for the A-50).

T-50 cockpit
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Still, the plane is designed to be a trainer, with better rear visibility than a 2-seat F-16. An “active stick” ensures that stick movements in the front or rear are transmitted to the stick in the other seat, to improve monitoring and learning. Embedded training features, in-flight recording and post-mission debriefing capability are all built in. The standard tools of a modern fighter pilot’s trade are likewise present: “glass cockpit” of digital screens, HUD (Head Up Displays), HOTAS (Hands On Stick And Throttle) control systems to keep everything at the pilot’s fingertips, triple-redundant electrical system, fly-by-wire, advanced radio and navigation systems including INS/GPS, and a Martin-Baker zero-zero ejection seat. The seat back angle is 17 degrees – similar to the seat angles of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the F/A-22.

Per the standards for modern trainers, the aircraft is part of a larger, integrated training system that includes simulators, computer-based training, cockpit and maintenance trainers, and a training management system.

Maintenance has also received careful thought. The new trainer’s airframe will require no mandatory depot maintenance, and the aircraft boasts a “single-tier design” with some 250 access panels, allowing technicians to get at any major system. Extensive self-diagnostics are expected to help keep maintenance costs down.

All in all, the T-50 may remind some people of the F-16 that was originally designed by the 1970s “Fighter Mafia,” who were busy breaking every big-jet, multi-role, high-priced rule the USAF had cultivated for over a decade. The T-50′s 0.65:1 thrust/weight ratio ensures that it’s no F-16. Even so, more than 25 years after the F-16 entered service, the T-50 family retains one more comparison point: a similar price point in absolute dollars. Its $20-30 million cost places it firmly on the high end of the modern trainer market, but its supersonic performance and fighter versatility could still make the T-50 family very popular indeed.

Key market competitors include the subsonic BAE Hawk, Aermacchi’s now-supersonic M346, and its Russian twin the Yak-130.

T-50 Variants

Black Eagles
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At present, 3 variants of the T-50 are planned, beyond the basic T-50 trainer aircraft.

One is the T-50B aerobatic variant, which has replaced ancient A-37 Dragonflys in South Korea’s “Black Eagles” national aerobatic team. This makes South Korea 1 of just 4 countries whose aerobatic teams fly locally designed and manufactured supersonic aircraft. The Black Eagles perform in this category alongside the USA’s Thunderbirds (F-16) and Blue Angels (F/A-18), Russia’s Swifts (MiG-29) and Knights (SU-27), and China’s 1st Aerobatic Team (J-10s).

The 2nd variant is the TA-50 lead-in fighter trainer, which is proving to be a popular export option. It has full avionics including stores management, and the IAI/ LIG Nex1 version of the EL/M-2032 multi-mode radar. Weapons include a 3-barreled M61 20mm cannon, and it can carry AIM-9 Sidewinder air-air missiles, AGM-65 Maverick short-range strike missiles, rocket pods, Mk80 family bombs, and SUU-20 practice bomb carriers. Some reports add Lockheed Martin’s AN/APG-67v4 multi-mode radar as an alternative option, derived from the radar that equipped Northrop’s F-20 Tigershark.

Other reports have mentioned that the TA-50 has provisions for radar warning receivers and specialty pods, if customers wish to add them. With those additions, it would become a complete low-end light fighter that’s able to add laser-guided bombs and rockets to its arsenal.

A slightly more expensive variant called the F/A-50 will be fully fitted for the lightweight fighter and light attack roles, with a secondary role as a lead-in fighter trainer (LIFT) if necessary.

KAI’s FA-50
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There is a small catch. The FA-50 is also a joint KAI/ Lockheed Martin project, and the associated co-operation agreements reportedly included a number of restrictive terms. One is that Lockheed Martin won’t transfer aircraft source code to other nations, leaving them as the sole integrator for key capabilities. A 2nd provision is that the T-50′s capabilities cannot exceed Korea’s F-16s. A 3rd provision reportedly banned South Korea from integrating T-50 variants with non-U.S. technology that the United States doesn’t have.

Provisions 2 and 3 had a big influence on the plane’s radar options. Instead of SELEX Galileo UK’s Vixen 500E AESA, the first FA-50s will use IAI’s popular EL/M-2032 multi-mode radar, with a radar transmitted back-end from SamsungThales. It will be coupled to additional datalinks like Link-16, a weapons management system, radar warning receivers, and a MIL-STD-1760 databus. FA-50s will also be able to carry additional electronic countermeasures equipment, and specialty pods like LITENING or Sniper ATP for targeting, surveillance, etc.

Weapons will include the same lightweight 3-barreled M61 20mm gun, and weapon set as the TA-50. That array is expected to grow, however, and the enhanced radar, databus, etc. add the ability to carry GPS-guided weapons like JDAM bombs, WCMD/SFW cluster bombs, JSOW glide bombs, etc. They’re also likely to enable the eventual addition of AIM-120 AMRAAM radar-guided air-air missiles, anti-ship missiles, and other advanced weapons.

Any FA-50 exports to Arab countries would probably have to swap out some equipment, as the Israeli-designed radar and LITENING pod wouldn’t be an option. One possibility would involve Lockheed Martin’s AN/APG-67v4 radar, and Sniper-SE surveillance and targeting pod.

The other possibility would be to look for more advanced American radars, and as advanced AESA radars become more mainstream in the global military market, the lack of an AESA option could begin to cost the FA-50 orders. An imminent program to upgrade the ROKAF’s KF-16s with AESA radars, and a US Air National Guard program to do the same thing with part of its own fleet, could offer a way out of the impasse by nullifying some of the key MoU restrictions noted above.

T/F/A-50: The Program

T-50 cutaway, KAI

Click here for full graphic, from KAI [1500 x 696, 454k].

Home Customer: 142 ROKAF: 50 T-50, 10 T-50B, 22 TA-50, 60 FA-50.
Export Customers: Indonesia (16 T-50i).
Key Prospects: USA, Philippines, Poland.
Losses: Israel, Singapore, UAE (?)

Arirang report

KAI is the T-50′s prime contractor, and is responsible for the design of the fuselage and tail unit, final assembly of the aircraft, and design of the accompanying training systems. The mid-mounted variable camber wings are manufactured by Lockheed Martin, who is also responsible for the avionics and fly-by-wire flight control system, and provides technical consulting.

The production line at Saechon is designed for a 1.5-aircraft-per-month production capability with a single shift, but the assembly process can produce up to 2.5 aircraft per month by simply adding another shift if orders increase. Man Sik Park, director of the T-50 management team at Sacheon, adds that “Getting more customers than our line can currently handle is no problem because we can increase the production rate further with additional tools and assembly jigs.”

TA-50 drops tank
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The ROKAF already has production orders for 102 of KAI’s aircraft: 50 T-50 trainers, 22 TA-50 LIFT/ light fighters (with an option for another 22), 10 T-50B aerobatic aircraft that replaced the Black Eagles’ A-37 Dragonflys, and 20 FA-50s. Further domestic orders may follow in 2013 for 40-110 more upgraded FA-50 variants, to replace the RoKAF’s F-5 Tiger II and F-4 Phantom fighters.

Outside South Korea, Lockheed Martin Aeronautical Systems and KAI have created the T-50 International Company (TFIC) to pursue export markets. Indonesia (16 TA-50/T-50i) remains the only export customer so far.

The FA-50 in particular will offer performance that competes favorably with likely competitors such as the Chinese/Pakistani JF-17, and India’s Tejas LCA. All 3 of these jets are likely to find themselves competing in the niche once occupied by a pair of 1960s-1970s era competitors – Russia’s MiG-21s, and Northrop’s amazingly popular F-5, which still flies with the ROKAF. Both aircraft types are still flying in many air forces, and both are reaching the end of their lifespan. Hence the market opportunity. Unlike its Chinese and Indian competitors, however, the F/T/A-50 family’s secondary fighter trainer role makes it attractive to first and second world air forces as well.

Contracts & Key Events


ROKAF follow-on FA-50 buy, takes 1st FA-50 delivery; Philippines pick FA-50; FA-50 potential in Indonesia.

KAI’s TA-50
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Aug 20/13: FA-50. KAI delivers the 1st FA-50 fighter to the ROKAF, with another 60 due for delivery by 2016 to replace about 120 Vietnam-era F-5E/F Tiger II fighters. KAI sees a bright future in Asia, where IHS projects that defense budgets will increase beyond by 35% from 2013 – 2021.

Park Jeong-soo and other KAI officials say they aim to sell about 1,000 T-50 family planes by 2040 or so, but even factoring in Asian growth, their success or failure in the USA’s 300 plane T-X requirement will play a huge role in whether or not they achieve it. Source: Reuters, “South Korea targets growing Asian defence market with fighter jets”

TA-50 delivered

June 19/13: Indonesia. KAI representatives at the 50th Paris Air Show tell Flight Global that Indonesia will receive its full complement of 16 T-50i jet trainers (q.v. May 25/11) between September 2013 – February 2014. They’re also pursuing a deal for 12 FA-50 light fighters, which would replace the TNI-AU’s F-5s. Flight Global.

May 7/13: KAI borrows the people who seem to write most of the technical manuals for consumer electronics, in order to describe the 1.1 trillion won (about $1.02 billion) ROKAF contract for full rate production of the FA-50. Based on our translation of their English translation, KAI seems to be saying that follow-on FA-50s will begin arriving in August 2013, and that production will continue into 2016. This timeline fits previous reports, and implies that KAI has been doing advance production work.

KAI’s writers wouldn’t be faithful to the spirit of those technical manuals if they didn’t leave out important information, so they made sure to leave out the number of planes bought. The ROKAF ordered 20 FA-50s in December 2011, and was slated to order another 40-110 as the follow-on. Given the contract funding, and expected costs, it appears that the ROKAF has ordered another 40 FA-50s, at around $25.5 million per plane.

You’re denying yourself one of life’s guilty pleasures if you don’t read the original KAI release in all its glory. See also: UPI.

40 (?) FA-50s for the ROKAF

March 6/13: Philippines. The Zamboanga City Times reports that the country’s Government Procurement Policy Board (GPPB) has only just given the go-ahead to draw up a Terms of Reference document, in advance of a government-to-government deal for 12 FA-50 fighters.

The document will define what has to be achieved; stakeholders, roles and responsibilities; resource, financial and quality plans; work breakdown structure and schedule; and success factors/risks. That isn’t a small job, yet the official line is that the TOR will be done and negotiations held by the end of 2013, which aircraft flying within about 2 years – or about a decade after they retired the F-5s in 2005. It’s possible, but both of those dates seem optimistic at best.

Jan 30/13: Philippines. Agence France Presse reports that the Philippines is headed into negotiations with KAI in February 2013, and expects to have a deal by July. Their jets won’t arrive until 2015.

The big question is, which jets they will be? AFP and Flight International report that they’ll be FA-50 fighter variants, rather than the TA-50 armed trainers. If the PAF technical team mentioned in the Oct 29/12 entry came back with unsatisfactory answers about the TA-50, KAI’s FA-50 is the logical next option. Close parsing of the public statements made by Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda and Defense Assistant Secretary Patrick Velez don’t provide direct confirmation. FA-50s will be more expensive, however, making TA-50s a potential fallback option in negotiations. Nothing is final yet, and we’ll only know the answer when the deal is done.

Postscript: Manila Channel wins the award for media confusion, by posting a graphic of Russia’s developmental T50 stealth fighter in their story. Uh, guys, these aren’t the fighter jets you’re looking for. Chosun Ilbo | Manila Channel | Manila’s Sun Star | Bloomberg | Flight International.


ROKAF orders 1st FA-50s; Philippines picks TA-50? KAI privatization fails.

T-50 line
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October 2012: FA-50. The FA-50 gets South Korean type certification. Source.

Oct 29/12: Philippines. The Philippine Star says that a PAF technical team is investigating whether the TA-50 can deliver “medium range missiles”, and the quality of its radar system. If the country decides to remain on course for a competition, these questions will become more important.

Radars are important to surveillance as well as air superiority, and the Philippines needs both. South Korea has a partnership with IAI for its EL/M-2032 radar, which includes surface scan capabilities, on the FA-50; will the Philippines pay for that? Beyond the radar, the term “medium range missile” is very ambiguous. TA-50s can deliver AGM-65 Maverick short-range strike missiles or AIM-9 Sidewinder short range air-to-air missiles, but they would require additional integration to deliver a medium range anti-ship weapon like an American AGM-154C JSOW glide bomb, an anti-ship missile like the AGM-84 Harpoon, or a medium-range air-to-air missile like the AIM-120 AMRAAM.

Oct 28/12: Philippines. The Philippine Star reports that their buy is becoming a competition again:

“The Philippine Air Force (PAF)’s planned acquisition of lead-in fighter jets from South Korea or any friendly state may take longer than expected after it was decided that the multi-billion peso defense procurement will be bid out instead of the government entering into a government-to-government deal.”

That changes Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin’s June announcement of a TA-50 buy from South Korea, with deliveries expected to begin in 2013. Philippine media report that the offer of 12 jets would include a soft loan of $560 million from South Korea’s Economic Development Cooperation Fund, disbursed through the Export-Import Bank of Korea.

Aug 31/12: KAI Privatization fails. Korean Air Lines Co. is the only bidder to register by the extended deadline, but rules governing sales by government entities require at least 2 bids.

Korean Air generated 3.3% of revenue making plane parts in 2011, and has tried to buy into KAI before. Beyond stepped up Korean orders for T-50 jets and Surion helicopters, KAI is also makes civil and military parts for Boeing, and is building a new plant to make Airbus A320 wing components under a $1.2 billion deal signed in March 2012. Bloomberg.


Aug 6/12: KAI privatization crashing. The government wants to privatize KAI, but finding a bidder has been difficult, and it looks like they’re about to fail on the Aug 16/12 deadline.

The government and its Korea Finance Corporation (KoFC) wanted to sell 41.75% of KAI via a publicly opened bid, which includes 11.4% of KoFC’s 26.41%, and shares owned by Samsung Techwin (10%), Hyundai Motor (10%), Doosan (10%), and KDB Bank (0.34%). The bid terms require at least 2 competing bidders, but as the JoongAng Daily explains, all of the major South Korean firms who could afford such a bid have other priorities. The asking price is also perceived to be high, and the market is reinforcing that by driving down KAI’s share price in anticipation of a failure to privatize it. Now political opposition to privatization is also growing, which could be the final nail in the coffin.

Aug 2/12: Philippines pick. The Philippines DND’s undersecretary for finance, munitions, installations and materiel, Fernando Manalo, makes the country’s choice official: KAI’s T-50s. Chinese bullying in the West Philippine Sea around Scarborough Shoal played a significant role in pushing them toward a more capable fighter, which would remove the M-346 from contention. Meanwhile, used F-16s were seen as too expensive to operate, with little airframe life left.

The problem is that without an approved modernization budget, the armed forces can’t sign a contract. If the country does sign a contract by the end of 2012, they want 2 of the Golden Eagles to be delivered immediately, so that their pilots will be trained by the time the other 10 arrive in 2015. Manilla Bulletin | Manilla Standard Today.

June 20/12: Philippine buy? ABS-CBN news of the Philippines quotes Philippine air force officials as saying they will buy 12 TA-50s, in order to restore the air force’s ability to police Philippine airspace.

That ability was lost when the country retired its remaining F-5 aircraft in 2005, and the USA no longer bases fighters at Clark AB or USNB Subic Bay. Chinese violations of Philippine airspace and claimed maritime zones have been creating a lot of tension, and the country has been looking at its options for a couple of years now. Their efforts have involved requests for 12 used American F-16s, as well as examination of KAI’s TA-50 and Alenia’s M-346 Master. The M-346 doesn’t have an armed version yet, and the USA hasn’t issued a formal DSCA clearance yet. That leaves the TA-50 as its only approved option that can be bought right now.

The TA-50 deal is reportedly worth around 25 billion pesos (about $590 million), with a contract expected by the end of 2012. All 12 fighter jets are expected to be delivered by the end of 2013. If so, the Philippines would join its neighbor Indonesia as a TA-50 customer.

A 2nd contract for 6 fixed-wing aircraft is expected to replace the country’s OV-10 Bronco counter-insurgency planes, and designs from the USA (likely the AT-6B), Brazil (Super Tucano), and Korea (likely the KT-1) are expected to compete. Given the TA-50′s 2-seat design and ability to use laser-guided weapons, another possibility would be to add options to any TA-50 contract, and use it in both roles. This would be less effective for counter-insurgency, or as an intermediate trainer, but contribute more to airspace policing and defense. It depends where the country’s priorities lie at the time, and external events are unstable enough to change them. Philippines’ ABS-CBN | ABS-CBN re: 2nd buy | South Korea’s Yonhap.

May 16/12: Philippines. Philippine President Benigno Aquino says that his government had asked to buy second-hand F-16s from the USA, but is concerned that maintenance costs on these aging aircraft could end up being too high. This was the problem that forced the country to mothball its F-5 force in 2005, but it seems there is good news. From the AFP report:

“We do have an alternative, and – this is a surprise – it seems we have the capacity to buy brand-new, but not from America… These are manufactured by another progressive country that I won’t name at this point.”

Feb 17/12: US T-X delayed. The USAF confirms that it won’t make a T-X selection until 2016, and doesn’t expect initial operational capability for its new trainers until 2020. Until then, they will continue to use 2-seat F-16Ds to bridge the gap from T-38 trainers, to the F-22A and F-35. Flight International.

Feb 16/12: Israel. The T-50 loses to Alenia’s M-346, as the preferred bidder to stock IAI & Elbit’s TOR public-private joint training venture. Governmental approval is required, and a contract award for 30 planes is expected later in 2012. If the expected billion-dollar contract is signed, deliveries would be expected to begin in the middle of 2014. In return, Italy is rumored to have pledged to buy an equivalent amount of equipment from Israel: IAI’s CAEW 550 AEW&C jets, and a new jointly-developed reconnaissance satellite. Those contracts were signed in July 2012.

Until now, South Korea has been buying a lot of defense gear from Israel. The question is whether that will continue. Read “Trainer Jets for Israel: From the Skyhawk, to the Master” for full coverage.

Israel loss

Feb 11/12: International training. South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quotes an unidentified defense ministry source who said that Portugal has become the preferred partner for a WON 300 billion (about $267 million) T-50 International Military Flight Training Center Consortium (IMFACC). A Memorandum of Understanding might be reached as early as March 2012.

If Portugal wins, they will have beaten potential sites in the USA, Australia, the Philippines and Spain. IMFACC will be a training center for international customers like Indonesia, as well as South Korean pilots who need to be free of flight time restrictions in their own, crowded country. Portugal has large over-water territories to facilitate flight training, and offers a more central location than Australia or the Philippines.

Feb 7/12: FA-50 radars? IAI reveals a $150 million order from an unnamed customer for its EL/M-2032 fighter radar, from an unnamed customer. A Globes report places the customer within Asia, and the timing is one of several factors that suggests a South Korean order.

Read “IAI’s $150M EL/M-2032 Radar Contract Mystery” for full coverage. It includes a survey of potential Asian customers, and the other likely candidate for this order.

Feb 3/12: US T-X. Asia One reports that recent announcements of US budget cuts are expected to affect the T-50, as the USA’s cornerstone T-X program looks set to be delayed:

“The US is by far the largest market for KAI, which hopes to sell at least 350 units to it. But it has deferred its decision on whether to acquire new trainer jets or develop them on its own, or turn their old fighters into trainer aircraft. The so-called T-X project is expected to be further delayed given the US defence cuts. Experts have estimated that the global demand for trainer jets and light fighters over the next three decades will amount to around 3,300 units. KAI aims to export around 1,000 units during that period.”


FA-50 order; Indonesia is T-50′s 1st export customer; TA-50 rollout; Polish do-over; Israeli competition; KAI IPO.

FA-50 prototype
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Dec 28/11: FA-50. Korea Aerospace Industries signs a 20-plane, $600 million FA-50 production contract with DAPA, bringing total T-50 family orders to 102 planes. This is a follow-on to the December 2008 development contract, which produced 4 prototype and test aircraft. Deliveries to the ROKAF are expected to begin in 2014.

South Korean orders could eventually swell to over 100 FA-50s, as the ROKAF seeks to replace its F-5E/Fs. This could also help in competitions like Poland’s, by broadening KAI’s in-production T-50 family technology options. KAI | Flight International.

20 FA-50s

Nov 22/11: AESA for KF-16s? Raytheon declares that it is “responding to the Republic of Korea’s official launch of the F-16 radar upgrade competition with the Raytheon Advanced Combat Radar system (RACR).” RACR is designed as a drop-in AESA radar for F-16 fighters, and is based on the technologies in the AN/APG-79 radar that equips US Navy Super Hornets.

No word yet on other competitors, but any KF-16 AESA upgrade could break a technology logjam for the FA-50 as well.

Oct 28/11: Poland. Poland steps back from its existing trainer & light fighter RFP, and says it will re-do the competition. They seem to have been surprised at the cost of meeting their previous specifications, and will opt for a trainer with lower combat capabilities in the next round. That means the new jets won’t really be able to replace their SU-22s, but it also means that, in the words of deputy defense minister Marcin Idzik, Poland won’t “be the sole country to acquire such an [aircraft as we had requested].” This implies that even the TA-50, which looked to have good odds of winning the bid, was insufficient.

The new RFP is expected in spring 2012. Read “Poland Seeks Advanced Jet Trainers/ Light Fighters” for full coverage.

Oct 10/11: Israel. The Jerusalem Post reports that KAI has formally partnered with Lockheed Martin in its bid to sell T-50 trainers to Israel, citing the advantage of being able to use American military aid funds. That possibility has been a live option since September, but this makes it official.

In Israel, KAI is once again competing against Alenia’s M-346 Master. Italy has reportedly made an interesting barter offer, and the 2 countries built close ties under Prime Minister Berlusconi. Israel’s final choice will be a significant geopolitical decision – read “Trainer Jets for Israel: Skyhawk Scandal Leads to End of an Era” for a full explanation, and ongoing coverage.

Sept 15/11: US FACO? The Korea Herald reports that Lockheed Martin is setting up a T-50 final assembly and check-out (FACO) plant in the USA. That makes perfect sense as it competes for the USA’s pending T-X trainer competition, and it also affects Israel’s buy. If the T-50 series can be considered an American product, that means Israel could buy it with American foreign aid dollars. The M-346 is unlikely to be able to offer that, which would give the Korean jet a significant edge.

The existing T-50 Golden Eagle contract reportedly states that KAI takes 70% percent of the production work, while Lockheed takes the rest. The firms would not address speculation that this ratio might be adjusted for the US T-X and /or Israeli competitions.

June 2011: Iraq. Jane’s Defence Weekly reports that the Iraqis may have made an oil-for-aircraft deal to buy Korean T-50 family jet trainers, some of which could also serve as effective light fighters. If so, this indicates serious budget issues, and makes the reported deal for Aero Vodochody L159T jet trainers questionable. Will the L-159′s potential Iraq deal become yet another canceled Czech?

As of Jan 5/12, however, no public announcement had been made regarding either platform.

May 26/11: KAI IPO. If KAI seemed to jump the gun on the Indonesia announcement, there may be a clear motive. The Korea Exchange has just approved an IPO for the firm to go public, which is expected to raise around $525 million in cash for the firm. Announcing the sale just ahead of that approval is permissible, and has the effect of boosting the expected asking price. Woori Investment & Securities, and Hyundai Securities, will manage the deal. Reuters | Wall St. Journal.


T-50: takeoff
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May 25/11: Indonesia win. Well, that was fast. KAI executive VP Enes Park is quoted as saying that the Indonesian Defense Ministry signed a $400 million deal for 16 jets – or $25 million per plane, which is not the deep discount deal touted earlier. Aviation Week says that the contract reportedly involves a T-50 with a gun and weapon pylons (i.e. TA-50), though the actual designation is T-50I.

The planes will replace about 10 Hawk Mk.53 subsonic trainers, and may also supplement or replace the TNI-AU’s 5-6 remaining F-5E/F fighters. Read “Indonesia Looking for Trainer/Attack Aircraft” for full coverage.

May 20/11: Indonesia win? In the wake of an ROK-Indonesian agreement to expand economic and industrial cooperation via a joint secretariat, and reports that KAI has been designated as Indonesia’s preferred trainer jet bidder, Indonesia’s Amir Sambodo suggests that Indonesia might buy 16 T-50 family jets, in exchange for 4 or more additional CN-235 aircraft bought from Indonesia’s Digiranta. Read “Indonesia Looking for Trainer/Attack Aircraft” for full coverage.

April 12/11: Indonesia. The Indonesian government sends a letter to KAI, designating the South Korean firm as the preferred bidder to replace Indonesia’s BAE Systems Hawk 53s. Source.

Indonesia is 1st export win

Feb 24/11: UAE stall. Flight International reports that M346 negotiations between the UAE and Alenia Aermacchi have stopped, with no word on when they might resume. Having said that:

“The door appears to remain closed to KAI and the T-50, with officials from the South Korean company agreeing. “Obviously, we would love to get back into the competition and offer the T-50. But we have not had any discussions with the UAE officials about the T-50 since they picked the M-346, and we are not expecting that to change any time soon,” says a KAI official.”

That quote would seem to contradict recent reports by UPI and Defense News, which said that the UAE had re-opened talks.

Jan 24/11: TA-50 rollout. South Korea rolls out the first production TA-50 variant, with light attack capabilities. The TA-50s will mostly be used to train new military pilots on air-to-air and air-to-surface missions before they deploy to KF-16s or F-15Ks, but they can also perform combat missions themselves as secondary air patrol or ground attack assets, and could be asked to do that in the event of a war.

South Korean media report that TA-50 deliveries will continue until 2012, to be followed by full F/A-50 fighters from 2013 onward. KAI | Korea Herald | idomin [in Korean, picture]



50th T-50 delivery; SFW bombs for FA-50s; Singapore loss; Iraq stall.

Alenia’s M346
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Oct 25/10: Iraq Czeched? Prague Monitor and Iraq Business report that the Czech Republic might sell up to 25 used Aero L-159s to Iraq. Iraq has been holding a competition for 24 jet trainers between Korea’s T-50, the UK’s Hawk, and Italy’s M-346.

If the L-159 has become a focus, rather than just a competitor, it’s likely that the price of new jet trainers was too high, given other pressing needs – and that Iraq is now looking at value over newness. Time will tell.

Sept 28/10: Singapore loss. Rumors of a loss in Singapore are confirmed, via a EUR 250 million contract to supply Singapore with 12 M-346 trainers and related systems. The win comes via Alenia’s global marketing agreement with Boeing, who already supplies Singapore’s new F-15SG fighters. Read “Finmeccanica’s M-346 AJT: Who’s the Master Now?” for full coverage.

Singapore loss

Sept 2/10: Poland RFP. Poland’s Ministry of Defense (MON) issues its jet trainer RFP for 16 planes, plus support, related training systems like simulators; and initial training for 6 instructors, 6 pilots, and 50 ground crew. 1.45 billion zlotys (about $467 million) has been budgeted, and the T-50 is a contender.

Aug 9/10: Indonesia finalists. Air Forces Monthly reports that Indonesia’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration has narrowed its 16 plane advanced jet trainer and light attack aircraft shortlist to the Czech Aero L-159B, South Korea’s T-50 Golden Eagle, and Russia’s Yak-130.

That leaves both Alenia’s M346 Master and China’s JL-9/FTC-2000 out in the cold. Interestingly, the common denominator for the 2 eliminated types is poor secondary ground attack capabilities.

July 1/10: Singapore loss? Defense News reports that Singapore’s government has selected Alenia Aermacchi’s M-346 as the preferred bidder in its $1.3 billion competition for 48 advanced jet trainers. Aermacchi teamed up with Singapore’s ST Aero to compete against the KAI-Lockheed team, with Boeing providing the ground-based training system to support the M-346.

Singapore’s MINDEF has not made its decision public, and neither KAI, nor Aermacchi, nor South Korea’s Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) procurement and export agency could confirm the tip. The report adds that the UAE’s M346 deal remains in limbo over a side deal to develop UAVs together, which may give the T-50 an opening. Singapore’s loss in particular is a sharp blow to the platform, however, and may set other events in motion – including privatization:

“The state-owned Korea Development Bank (KDB) announced in April 2009 that it would sell its 30.5 percent stake in KAI, which has three other major local shareholders – Samsung Techwin, Doosan Infracore and Hyundai Motors, each with a 20.54 percent stake. But KDB temporarily withdrew from its decision in the face of opposition from KAI’s labor union, which argued that the privatization effort could hurt overseas sales of the T-50… Earlier this year, a KoFC(Korea Finance Corp.) official said, “If KAI fails to sell the T-50 to Singapore, discussions of the KAI privatization would certainly be resurfaced. Our position will be re-established after that.”

See also the official SAF cyberpioneer’s articles covering the BAE Hawk, Alenia M346, and KAI T-50.

May 12/10: #50. The ROKAF holds a ceremony to celebrate the delivery of the 50th T-50 jet, which completes the RKAF’s orders for that variant.

The Korea Herald reports that the T-50 project had cost WON 2.2 trillion ($1.9 billion) on the T-50 project as of 1997, with training beginning in April 2007. The jet has been used to train 190 pilots so far. KAI | Korea Herald.

Last ROKAF T-50

April 6/10: SFW for FA-50s. Textron Defense System announces that the ROKAF will integrate their Sensor Fuzed Weapon (SFW) smart cluster bombs on the FA-50 light combat aircraft. Through a foreign military sale led by the Eglin Air Force Base Air Armament Center and the Defense Acquisition Program Administration of South Korea, Textron Defense Systems expects to begin providing inert integration rounds starting in 2010.


ROKAF’s Black Eagles switch; UAE loss; IAI EL/M-2032 radar & Elisra ECM for FA-50; M61 20mm gun contract.

Black Eagles T-50B
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Oct 29/09: AESA offered. Flight International reports that Raytheon officials are touting their RACR model AESA radar for the F/A-50 at the 2009 Seoul air show. Northrop Grumman’s similar SABR radar, which has been designed to compete with RACR in the F-16 retrofit market, is another possibility. Buying an American radar would step around the provisions that F/A-50 source code may not be shared with other countries; whether it would also overcome the agreements’ other obstacles remains to be seen.

Sept 23/09: EL/M2-2032 radar deal. Israel Aerospace Industries announces a $280 million pair of contracts with South Korea, one of which covers EL/M-2032 radars for the TA-50 and FA-50 fighters. The fighter radar will be co-produced by IAI ELTA and South Korea’s LIG Nex1.

The other order reportedly involves Israel’s Oren Yarok (“Green Pine”) long-range air defense and missile tracking radar. Earlier discussions had revolved around figures of about $215 million for 2 Green Pine radar systems, and current reports offer a figure of $200 million for an undisclosed number of systems. The low number of TA-50 and F/A-50 fighter orders at this early stage of their development, and the EL/M-2032 fighter radar’s low R&D needs given its mature state, makes those figures plausible in the absence of a detailed breakout between the 2 contracts. Globes adds that IAI’s usual contract policies involve a down payment of 25-35%, suggesting that it will record $70-98 million revenue from these contracts in its consolidated financial report for 2009.

The release and follow-on reports do not mention South Korea’s KF-16s, which are also slated for a radar upgrade. IAI release | Globes business | Agence France Presse | Flight International.

M-2032 radar deal

Sept 21/09: Israel. Flight International reports that Alenia Aermacchi’s M-346 Master and the Korea Aerospace Industries/Lockheed Martin T-50 have emerged as the leading candidates to replace the Israeli Cheyl Ha’avir’s TA-4 Skyhawk advanced jet trainers. See also full DID coverage: “Israel’s Skyhawk Scandal Leads to End of an Era.”

Aug 2/09: Israel. As reports of Israeli radar cooperation to equip KAI’s TA-50 and FA-50s swirl around the media, Israel has sent a formal delegation to evaluate and test-fly the T-50 as a potential replacement for its Skyhawks. This is the first time in 40 years that Israel is considering purchasing a fighter jet not made either locally, or in the United States.

Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reports that other candidates include the T-45 Hawk variant, and Alenia’s M-346. Media reports currently cite the T-50 family as the front-runners for the 20-30 plane Lead-In Fighter Trainer order. Read “Trainer Jets for Israel: Skyhawk Scandal Leads to End of an Era” for ongoing coverage.

July 23/09: IAI radar. The Korea Times reports that South Korea’s LIG Nex1 will sign a deal with Israel’s IAI Elta Systems on Sept 3/09. That deal will involve the first phase of development for an indigenous radar based on the EL/M-2032 passive phased array radar, to equip TA-50 and F/A-50 aircraft.

An official from the ROK’s DAPA procurement agency told the Times that the radar is expected to be built by the end of 2010, and enter service in 2011. In the mid- to long-term, sources told The Kora Times that the domestically-built radar is likely to be installed on upgraded KF-16 fighters. The Times adds that the effort may even lead to Korean development of an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar under future agreements with IAI Elta, who has also developed the EL/M-2052 AESA.

The South Korean Air Force is buying 50 T-50 trainers, 22 TA-50s with secondary attack capabilities, and 10 T-50Bs modified for aerobatics; and is expected to add 60 F/A-50 light fighters by 2012 to replace its F-5 Tiger and F-4 Phantom fighters.

April 30/09: Black Eagles switch. The ROKAF’s Black Eagles acrobatic flight display team retired its Cessna A-37 Dragonflys after the 2009 Seoul Air Show. The ROKAF announces that they will re-debut with a fleet of 8 T-50B Golden Eagles at Seoul’s international air show in October 2009. Note that the final Black Eagle paint scheme ended up being different than the initial scheme depicted in the photo, above.

This will make the Black Eagles one of the few air force aerobatic teams to use locally designed and manufactured supersonic aircraft, alongside the USA’s Thunderbirds (F-16) and Blue Angels (F/A-18), Russia’s Swifts (MiG-29) and Knights (SU-27), and China’s 1st Aerobatic Team (J-10s). Defense News.

Black Eagles

March 15/09: UAE post-mortem. The Korea Times cites an upcoming $500 million competition in Singapore between the Aermacchi M346 and KAI’s T-50, while delving into some of the reasons behind the recent UAE loss:

“The government’s role is much bigger than it appears in this kind of competition,” [the military analyst] said. “And what the Korean government did in the UAE is, to be frank, far from [adequate].” Italy, which had developed close ties with Middle Eastern countries over the years, rolled out marketing promotions there with pledges of large industrial cooperation projects, including construction of an F-1 racing track… [in contrast] None of the Korean projects have been delivered to Abu Dhabi through a ministerial channel.

When National Assembly Speaker Rep. Kim Hyeong-o visited the UAE in January, he heard from Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, that the preferred bidder will be “decided upon industrial cooperation offered, as well as the trainer jet quality.” He remarked that the country hadn’t heard anything from Seoul for nine months… To make matters worse, Seoul didn’t even take the opportunity of a last chance from Abu Dhabi, after the Korean delegation failed to make it to February’s International Defense Exhibition & Conference held there, where UAE was awaiting a new offer.”

March 12/09: Price problem? The Korea Times publishes an article that wonders if the T-50′s supersonic speed has created a price handicap:

“Although the UAE acknowledged the T-50 has remarkably high quality, the country apparently put more value on cooperative projects in the aerospace industry that the Italian side pledged,” the Ministry of Knowledge Economy said in a statement, which also pointed out a disadvantage in price. A T-50 jet’s flyaway cost is set at 20 billion won to 25 billion won ($13.5 – $16.9 million), while the M-346 costs 18 billion won to 20 billion won.” [$12.15 - $13.5 million]

DID’s take? Advanced jet training does focus on in-air operation, take-off and landing, and blind flying, with secondary weapons training opportunities. Within those constraints, the price of supersonic flight may not be seen as worthwhile. What the capability does, is give the T-50 family a full secondary fighter role that goes beyond the traditional “secondary light ground attack” role for trainers. The ultimate question for the market to answer is how much it values that capability, in an era of shrinking defense budgets that create stronger demands for multi-role platforms, as well as closer attention to costs.

Feb 25/09: UAE setback. At IDEX 2009, the UAE announces that it has begun negotiations for 48 M-346 aircraft from Finmeccanica’s Aermacchi. If the EUR 1 billion deal is finalized, the T/A-50 will have lost this export competition.

Feb 24/09: Iraq. Iraq officially requests T-50 jets, even as Iraq and the ROK sign economic agreements to develop oil fields near Basra, and open Iraqi public infrastructure contracts to South Korean firms. For full details and updates, read “T/A-50 Golden Eagles for Iraq?”

Feb 11/09: Elisra ECM for FA-50. Flight International reports that Israel’s Elisra will supply the F/A-50′s electronic warfare and self-protection equipment, under an initial contract worth $7 million for the initial 4 prototypes. The equipment will b

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