Buoyed by the successful sale of its KT-1 trainer to Turkey, Korea Aerospace Industries is planning to push for further exports by adding light-attack capabilities to the aircraft.

The light-attack version of the aircraft, which is being titled XKT-1, can be equipped with rocket launchers, non-guided bombs and machine guns. Park Jeong Soo, team leader for KT-1 marketing at KAI, adds that the company is in preliminary talks with several countries in central Asia, South America and the Middle East that could have a requirement for such an aircraft.

"Trial flights are under way in the programme," says Park. "This aircraft can be used for light attack and we can fit what the customers want to it. We believe that there would be a market for aircraft with both trainer and light-attack capabilities."

He estimates that around 200 of the 3,000 KT-1 class aircraft in operation globally would need to be replaced in the next decade. The company has also developed an armed variant of the KT-1, known as the KO-1, for the South Korean air force.

The move to increase exports follows confirmation that Turkey is buying 40 KT-1 basic trainers, with another 15 on option and likely to be made into firm orders in 2008, to replace its air force's Cessna T-37s. Under the $500 million contract, Turkish Aerospace Industries will manufacture, assemble, conduct flight tests and deliver the aircraft starting 2008.

"This is a significant deal for us," says Park. "Turkey has been using only US-made trainers until now, and it had a very strict quality assessment as part of the tender process. Its selection of a Korean aircraft shows that the KT-1 is recognised as one of the top basic trainers in the world. This will allow us in marketing the aircraft to more countries, and we expect to be seriously considered for more basic trainer requirements."

The sale to Turkey was the second export sale for the KT-1, with Indonesia buying seven in 2003 and another 12 in 2006. Park says KAI is in negotiations with Indonesia for a third batch of aircraft. He adds that his team is identifying new markets that could have basic trainer requirements and push the aircraft more aggressively there, he says. The company is also willing to allow technology transfer and local production in its customers' home countries.

KAI's T-50 advanced jet trainer, which was developed with Lockheed Martin, is also in contention in competitions in the United Arab Emirates and Singapore. The company hopes to increase its exports sales gradually and become one of the top 10 aircraft manufacturers in the next decade.

Source: Flight International