Korea Aerospace Industries is expecting to receive the go-ahead to develop the F/A-50 fighter around mid-2008, paving the way for government funding for the programme.
The aircraft, a light combat version of KAI's T-50 advanced jet trainer, has been mooted for several years as a possible replacement for the air force's Northrop F-5s. South Korea has already committed to 50 T-50s and 22 A-50s, a weaponised version of the aircraft.
The company is finalising design and production details, and getting permission from the USA government due to the T-50's use of some sensitive equipment derived from the Lockheed Martin F-16. It will then submit a long-delayed proposal to the South Korean government, says a company source. A development contract could soon follow, with the company expecting the government to commit to at least 60 aircraft.
The T-50 performing at the Singapore Airshow
The company has said that the government would take care of development costs and KAI would become the prime contractor. While a cost estimate has not been revealed, the company anticipates that it would be cheaper than other alternatives as the platform has already been developed for the T-50.
A request for proposals has been issued for equipment such as radar warning receivers, precision-guided bombs, countermeasures dispensers, datalinks and weapons management systems. The company hopes to fly the first prototype by early 2010. The programme will sustain the company's T-50 line beyond late 2012, when the last of the air force's A-50s is delivered.