KAI and Lockheed Martin boosts T-50 co-operation

The purchase of more Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI) T-50 Golden Eagle aircraft is set to make this the Royal Thai Air Force's fast-jet trainer for the foreseeable future.

Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) and Lockheed Martin have signed a teaming agreement to market the T-50 Golden Eagle advanced jet trainer globally, KAI announced on 12 June. The agreement is set to “escalate” a strategic partnership that already exists between the two companies, it added.

KAI also noted that the enhanced pact will provide an opportunity to realise a November 2021 vision between the Republic of Korea government and South Korea’s defence industries to export 1,000 T-50 aircraft internationally.

The T-50 is expected to be address several training aircraft requirements, including the Canadian Future Fighter Lead-In Training (FFLIT) and the US Air Force and US Navy tactical trainer programmes. The aircraft will also be used to bid for training projects in Africa, Eastern Europe, and South America.

In a separate statement, Lockheed Martin noted that the T-50 is a proven aircraft that reduces the learning curve for new pilots and enables them to achieve operational readiness faster even in fifth-generation aircraft like the F-35 Lightning II.

“That’s where the benefits of the proven T-50 program really come into play,” said Aimee Burnett, vice president, Integrated Fighter Group Business Development at Lockheed Martin.

“The seamless training experience with the T-50 gives student pilots an additional edge and fully prepares them – in less time than in the past – to fly any combat mission,” added Burnett, noting that this is an important feature as air forces around the world are now required to increase their pilot training pipelines to fill gaps caused by increased operational tempos or personnel departure.

For example, Lockheed Martin pointed out that the T-50 programme has already reduced the number of required flights for Korean pilots being instructed on the KF-16 – the localised variant of its F-16 Fighting Falcon combat aircraft – to only nine sorties.

While the Republic of Korea Air Force remains the largest user of the type, KAI has made steady gains in regional exports, with customers including the Indonesian, Thai, and Philippine air forces. Additional sales to these operators are expected in the near future, with Indonesia agreeing to a US$240 million deal in July 2021 for six additional T-50i Golden Eagle for its lead-in fighter trainer (LIFT) programme

The Philippine Air Force is also reportedly interested to expand its current fleet of 12 F/A-50 aircraft, the light attack variant of the T-50 which were delivered to the Southeast Asian country between 2015 and 2017. Its chief, Lieutenant General Connor Anthony Canlas, told the state-owned PNA news agency that the F/A-50 would be “a good option…[as it] provides a good training opportunity for the pilots to step up to higher performance aircraft”.

The T-50 Golden Eagle is a single-engine, supersonic aircraft developed by KAI with technical assistance from Lockheed Martin, with an eye on emerging international requirements for affordable LIFT and light-attack aircraft.

by Jr Ng