Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) signed a US$1.1 billion deal to export 24 FA-50 light attackers to Iraq, which is the largest-ever export in the defense industry’s history.
KAI unveiled on December 12 (local time) that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and KAI Chairman Ha Sung-yong signed a US$1.1 billion contract in the Office of the Prime Minister in Baghdad, Iraq, comprising the export of 24 T-50 aircraft and pilot training over the next 20 years. KAI and the Iraqi government also are set to sign another US$1 billion deal to provide follow-up military support over the next 25 years, which makes the combined export reach a US$2.1 billion value.
The FA-50, serving as a light attacker and trainer aircraft, is a variant of the T-50 Golden Eagle supersonic trainer that was co-developed by KAI and Lockheed Martin, replacing the F-5 class aircraft operated by the Korean Air Force.
When Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki visited Korea in April 2011, Chairman Ha introduced locally-made aircraft focusing on the T-50 class, and entered formal negotiations with Iraq. Since then, the FA-50 has fiercely competed with the Hawk-128 by British defense contractor BAE Systems, the Yak-130 by Yakovlev of Russia, and the L-159 by Aero Vodochody of the Czech Republic. Korea dispatched its peace and reconstruction army Zaytun Division to Iraq in 2004, building more friendly relations between the two countries, which also helped KAI to win the contract.
The Iraqi version of the FA-50, named the T-50 IQ, is armed with air-to-air missiles, air-to-surface missiles, and machine guns, as well as precision-guided bombs, both joint direct-attack munitions and censure-fused weapons.
The deal came after Iraq last year signed a new contract to buy its second set of 18 F-16 fighters from Lockeed Martin, part of a deal to purchase 36 of the jets to rebuild its air force. “The T-50 was chosen as a trainer aircraft for fostering pilots of the F-16,” said an official at KAI.
With delivery scheduled between 2015 and 2016, the Iraqi air force aims to use the Korean-made aircraft to train its pilots and conduct light attack missions, KAI said.
While KAI has sold T-50 variants to Indonesia, Turkey, and Peru, the sales of the FA-50 marks the first time for Korea to export the light attacker overseas.
In October, the Philippine government signed a memorandum of understanding for 12 FA-50 fighters worth US$450 million. While a final contract was expected within this year, it has been delayed, as the Southeast Asian nation is grappling with the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan.
KAI is seeking to export the T-50 family of jets to the Philippines, Peru, and Botswana, while eyeing the US Air Force’s T-38 replacement program next year.