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South Korea gets T-50 work as KAI studies fighter variant

BRENDAN SOBIE / SINGAPORE

Possible F-50 configuration considered as Lockheed Martin offloads wing production

Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) has begun a study for a possible fighter version of the T-50as the company finalises production plans with partner Lockheed Martin for the basic trainer variant.

KAI and Lockheed Martin say a decision on the proposed F-50 is at least a year away, but engineers have begun looking at possible configurations. One of the T-50's two seats could be removed to make room for larger fuel tanks, bigger radar, a countermeasures system and an electronic warfare suite.

No major structural changes are planned, although the wings may be slightly thinner. An engine thrust increase is also possible.

KAI hopes to package the F-50 with the basic trainer and lead-in fighter variants of the T-50, and possibly the KT-1 basic trainer. The F-50 would also be targeted at operators of ageing Northrop F-5s. Apart from Indonesia, which took delivery of its first KT-1Bs in early July, KAI has secured no export orders for its trainers, although there are several prospects.

KAI is banking on South Korea authorising initial production for the first 24 T-50s next month. The company says it is close to agreeing a workshare package with Lockheed Martin that will transfer wing production from the USA to South Korea (Flight International, 3-9 June).

Lockheed Martin "is overwhelmed with work on the JSF" and is prepared to have the wing manufactured in South Korea to reduce programme costs, according to an industry source. But KAI says the final workshare package needs to be approved by the South Korean government as part of the initial production authorisation.

South Korea plans to acquire about 100 T-50s. KAI believes a fighter variant would meet a separate requirement and would merit additional sales. But KAI and Lockheed Martin say they are now focused on starting production of the basic trainer variant and developing the fighter lead-in variant. As a result, Lockheed Martin says development of the proposed F-50 will not begin until 2008.

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