Brendan Sobie / Singapore

South Korea considers upgraded aircraft and evaluates optional equipment aimed at improving its self-protection

The South Korean air force is considering an upgraded configuration of the Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI)/Lockheed Martin A-50 for the close air support (CAS) mission.

Industry sources say the air force is evaluating several items of optional equipment for the A-50 to improve its self-protection capability, including radar warning receivers, countermeasures dispenser systems and onboard inert gas generating systems (OBIGGS). The additional equipment would only be purchased for A-50s replacing Cessna A-37s, which are now used for CAS missions, although they lack radar and GPS.

South Korea plans to acquire 44 A-50s, about half of which will be delivered to lead-in fighter training squadrons beginning in 2008. The other half are earmarked for CAS squadrons from 2011.

KAI is also offering an electronic- warfare suite and reconnaissance pod for the A-50, but sources say these options are not part of the current air force A-50 CAS requirement review, which should be concluded next year.

KAI is offering further upgrades for a proposed fighter variant. The single-seat F-50 would have an upgraded radar with beyond visual range missile capability and an upgraded cockpit, including a third multifunction colour display and a head-up display. A datalink and FLIR will be added, and the canopy and seat height adjusted to improve rear seat visibility.

As part of an F-50 conceptual design and feasibility study, KAI concluded that it could incorporate over 30 different types of weapons - including the JASSM and SLAM-ER air-to-ground missiles and AIM-9X air-to-air missiles - on the F-50 without any major changes to the T-50/A-50 design. KAI says the platform can support guided weapons, rocket/gun pods, electronic countermeasures, navigation/reconnaissance/utility pods and air-to-ground and air-to-air missiles.

KAI hopes to begin delivering F-50s in four to six years. The aircraft will be aimed at the Northrop F-5 replacement market, but the company believes it can also replace some older Lockheed Martin F-16s. The T-50/A-50/F-50 has 90% of the volume of the F-16 and its wingspan is almost the same.

Sources say South Korea is also looking at several possible upgrades for its F-16s, including JDAM, helmet-mounted cueing systems and AIM-9X missiles.

KAI is lobbying the government to fund F-50 development, starting next year using the 600 engineers that developed the T-50/A-50. "KAI is anxious to begin immediately," says an industry source. "With the T-50/A-50 in the test flight stage, it has engineers it needs to use." This year South Korea is acquiring the first 25 of 50 basic T-50 trainers.

Source: Flight International