South Korea has asked Korea Aerospace Industries to develop a prototype of a light attack version of its T-50 advanced jet trainer, with a production contract likely to be awarded after the aircraft has been tested by the nation's air force.
Under the 400 billion won ($306 million) contract, KAI will upgrade four T-50s to the F/A-50 standard and deliver them to the South Korean air force by 2012. It then expects the service to order around 60 F/A-50s for delivery from 2013 to replace its ageing Northrop F-5s, and to eventually buy up to 150 of the type.
KAI has been pushing Seoul to finance the F/A-50's development for several years as it wants to keep its T-50 production line open beyond 2012, when the last South Korean aircraft currently under contract will be delivered. Its air force has ordered 82 T-50s, including 50 advanced jet trainers, 22 armed A-50s and 10 for its aerobatics display team. The service could order another 70 trainer and weaponised variants, say sources, and the T-50 is also in contention in several international tenders.
Tenders were issued last year by KAI to suppliers of radar warning receivers, precision-guided bombs, countermeasures dispensers, advanced tactical datalinks and weapons management systems for the F/A-50. Known armaments will include bombs equipped with Boeing Joint Direct Attack Munition guidance kits and Raytheon's AGM-65 Maverick air-to-surface missile.
The F/A-50 is also likely to use an EL/M-2032 radar supplied by Israel's Elta Systems. The radar selection has been a bone of contention with Lockheed Martin, which helped to develop the T-50 and had wanted KAI to use its own APG-67(V)4 on the F/A-50. Seoul had preferred Selex Sensors and Airborne Systems' Vixen 500E active electronically scanned array, but is barred from sharing the T-50's source codes with non-US companies. That led to it choosing the Israeli radar, which will be installed on the F/A-50 by a US company, meeting US government and Lockheed conditions.
KAI and Lockheed are jointly marketing the T-50 outside South Korea, with the aircraft locked in fierce competition with Alenia Aermacchi's M-346 in Greece, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates. The companies are also promoting the aircraft in other European and Asian countries with advanced trainer requirements. Industry sources say the F/A-50 will also be offered to countries that require light attack aircraft after 2013.