The Philippines has signed a contract for 12 Korea Aerospace Industries FA-50 fighter aircraft.

The deal is worth $420 million, with all aircraft to be delivered 38 months after the contract goes into effect, says KAI in a statement.

The long-awaited deal was signed between the governments of the Philippines and South Korea, KAI adds.

The announcement marks an important step for Manila, which has no operational fighter aircraft after it retired its Northrop F-5s in 2004. During the 2000s its focus was primarily on counterinsurgency missions in the southern Philippines, but China’s increasing assertiveness in the South China Sea has prompted Manila to rethink its conventional capabilities.

The FA-50 is a logical choice for Manila because the aircraft, based on the T-50 advanced jet trainer, can serve in both training and light combat roles.

Powered by a single General Electric F404 engine with afterburner, the FA-50 is entering service with the South Korean air force, and in late December Iraq signed a $1.1 billion contract for 24 aircraft. In 2011, Jakarta signed a $400 million deal for 16 T-50s, which is designated the T-50i in Indonesian service.



The FA-50 is the most advanced variant of the T-50 family. Seoul's FA-50s will have the Link 16 tactical data link, as well as an Elta Systems EL/M-2032 pulse Doppler radar.

The FA-50 also has a radar warning receiver and a night vision imaging system. It is capable of carrying 4,500kg (9,920lb) of weapons, including the Boeing Joint Direct Attack Munition and Textron CBU-97 Sensor Fused Weapon. The FA-50 also has a 20mm cannon and can carry air-to-air missiles.

KAI is also eyeing export opportunities for the T-50 in the United Arab Emirates, Thailand, and Peru.

The greatest opportunity for the type, however, lies in the US T-X competition to replace the venerable T-38 Talon. KAI will team with Lockheed Martin, which assisted the development of the T-50, to compete for the T-X deal.

Aside from the original T-50 and FA-50, KAI has also produced the T-50B enhanced manoeuvrability aerobatic variant, and the TA-50, which has a rudimentary air-to-air capability with a 20mm cannon and the ability to carry IR homing missiles.