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T/A-50 makers plan Israeli pitch

DEFENCE ANDREW DOYLE / SACHON

Offset deal on table for partners in effort to win Tel Aviv over to Golden Eagle supersonic fighter trainers

Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) and Lockheed Martin are studying options for incorporating Israeli industry into a potential bid to sell T/A-50 Golden Eagle supersonic lead-in fighter trainers to Tel Aviv.

A memorandum of understanding between T/A-50 programme partners KAI and Lockheed and Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) and the Israeli air force could be signed by early next year. This would pave the way for talks on how an industrial offset and operational support deal could be structured, say KAI officials. The four had planned to ink a deal at October's Seoul air show but stopped short after the Israeli Government did not publicly state its interest in the T/A-50.

Israel has a requirement for up to 30 advanced trainers by the end of the decade, and is a key potential customer for the T/A-50, with countries such as Greece, Singapore, Spain and the United Arab Emirates. A version of the T/A-50 adapted to Israeli needs would almost certainly have to be equipped with indigenous avionics and be supported by the air force.

Although KAI is the prime contractor and majority shareholder in the T/A-50, a deal with Israel would be structured as a US government foreign military sale via Lockheed, leveraging the aircraft's substantial US content. Tel Aviv is not expected to make a selection before 2005.

Israeli sources say the air force is likely to lease its next-generation trainers from a consortium including IAI. The first T/A-50 flight test aircraft was rolled out on 31 October at KAI's Sachon factory, and is due to make its maiden flight in June. The defence ministry has committed to buy 94 aircraft subject to production approval, which is due in August 2003.

Meanwhile, KAI is studying a single-seat version of the T/A-50 incorporating extra fuel tanks, enhanced avionics and a longer radome as a possible solution for South Korea's longer-term KFX requirement for a new F-16 class fighter from around 2015.

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