South Korea plans to decide by year-end on an advanced configuration for the Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) A-50 for close-air support (CAS) missions, and will also respond to a company proposal to simultaneously develop an F-50 fighter variant to replace its air force Northrop F-5s. KAI hopes to launch development of the A-50+ for CAS roles in late 2006.

Seoul has included 22 CAS platforms in its initial 96-aircraft requirement for the A-50 and T-50 trainer, but since 2003 has been evaluating several items of equipment to improve the A-50’s survivability and lethality. KAI says some additional equipment has won tentative approval from the South Korean air force, but a configuration will not be finalised until later this year.

Equipment under consideration includes a radar warning receiver, countermeasures dispensers, night vision capability, a forward-looking infrared sensor, datalink and Textron Systems’ CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapon. The same equipment, plus a third multifunction display and several heavier weapons, are also included with the proposed single-seat F-50. KAI says Seoul may purchase up to 160 F-50s and a decision is due by year-end.

Hinting at a positive decision, South Korean president Roh Moo-hyun says: “The T-50 will be a cornerstone of the superiority of our air force’s air defence power and allow it the ability to change or improve the configuration of the aircraft, which will ultimately allow us to develop an indigenous fighter in the near future.”

An F-50 purchase would sustain KAI’s T-50 line beyond late 2012, when the last of South Korea’s 22 CAS-configured A-50s will be delivered following a recent one-year slide in its production schedule. The air force has also delayed the delivery of its last A-50 lead-in fighter trainer from December 2010 until mid-2011.

Source: Flight International