SOUTH KOREA is on the brink of leasing Northrop Grumman T-38 Talon trainers rather than purchasing new-build British Aerospace Hawks, and will use the savings to launch the KTX-II light fighter/trainer-aircraft programme.

The South Korean air force is understood to be negotiating an agreement, worth $100 million, to lease the surplus US T-38s over five years. The funds saved would be used to launch development of the KTX-II. According to South Korean officials, BAe had been negotiating to supply 23 Hawks, worth some $300 million.

South Korea is looking for a foreign aerospace partner to help develop the KTX-II. Lockheed Martin is the leading candidate. The latter is understood to be discussing taking a 20% stake in the programme, in return for $185 million towards development.

The US company, however, is pushing South Korea to commit to the production of a much larger number of KTX-IIs than planned, so that it can join the proposed programme as risk-sharing partner.

The US manufacturer suggests that a minimum of 300-400 aircraft would need to be produced for it to break even on its investment.

The air force, however, has a requirement for only 100 KTX-IIs, which Lockheed Martin estimates would result in a loss of $125 million for the company.

Lockheed Martin is already assisting South Korea's Agency for Defence Development and programme integrator Samsung Aerospace with preliminary design of the aircraft, as part of its industrial offset against the sale of 120 F-16s to the air force.

Samsung is pressing the South Korea Government to launch the programme in 1996, to sustain work at its factory after the completion of the last licence-built F-16. The Government, however, has made its support contingent on a foreign partner being found.

South Korea earlier this year asked three European manufacturers, including British Aerospace, to submit proposals for co-development of the KTX-II.

The proposals have gone nowhere and have been regarded by defence sources as a method of putting pressure on Lockheed Martin to commit itself as a partner.

While support from South Korea's aerospace industry is strong, the air force is less enthusiastic about the project.

Development of the KTX-II is expected to take at least seven years, with the first aircraft not entering service until 2003. Projected development costs range from $1.5 billion to $2 billion.

The tandem-seat KTX-II would have a supersonic performance and be powered by a single 71kN (16,000lb)-class engine and be equipped with seven wingtip, underwing and fuselage hardpoints.

South Korea's decision to opt for leased T-38s represents a major setback for BAe's long-standing hope of selling a follow-on batch of Hawk trainers. BAe originally delivered 20 Hawk Mk.67 trainers to the air force, of which 16 are still operational.

The tandem-seat US trainers will be delivered in two batches of 15 aircraft. An initial number of T-38s has already been set aside for South Korean use and they are expected to be transferred as soon as the lease deal in signed.


Source: Flight International