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​Seoul to add more T-50s to meet training requirements

Seoul looks likely obtain additional Korea Aerospace Industries T-50 advanced jet trainers (AJT) to support its future fleet of advanced fighter aircraft.

The new aircraft are necessary owing to incoming types such as the Lockheed Martin F-35 and, in the 2020s, of the KAI KFX fighter, says the defence ministry. It did not state the number of aircraft to be acquired, or the type, but requires that they be domestically acquired. The only AJT produced in south Korea is the T-50.

Acquisitions will begin in 2019. The ministry adds that a training gap will open up with Lockheed Martin F-16s previously detailed to training duties moving to combat missions, and the pending retirement of the F-5F.

Flight Fleets Analyzer shows that Seoul operates 36 two-seat F-5Fs and 51 F-16Ds in a training capacity.

While the T-50 is unarmed, the TA-50 is lightly armed with a 20mm cannon and the ability to carry air-to-air missiles. The most advanced variant, the FA-50, has 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.

Obtaining TA-50s or FA-50s for the new trainer requirement would give Seoul the flexibility to use the aircraft in a conflict. At present, KAI's Sacheon factory is producing FA-50s for the South Korea's air force, as well as international customers.

Seoul ordered 40 F-35As in 2014, with deliveries planned for 2018. Offsets related to the F-35 acquisitions are being used to help develop the KFX, an advanced fighter to be powered by two General Electric F414 engines. In terms of capability, KFX is seen as being more advanced than an upgraded F-16, but somewhat less than the F-35.

The T-50, originally developed with help from Lockheed, also forms the basis of Lockheed's bid for the US T-X requirement, for up to 350 trainers to replace the venerable T-38. Equipped with a Dorsal Air Refuelling Tank (DART), this aircraft would be produced in Greenville, South Carolina should Lockheed win T-X.

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