South Korea readies single-seat FA-50 development

The KAI T-50 and its derived FA-50 fighter illustrate the level of development of the ROK defence industry in establishing a domestic design and manufacturing capability. The aircraft is not only in use by Korea but has been adopted by four other countries. (KAI)

South Korea’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy (MOTIE) announced in early May a plan to fund the development of a single-seat variant of Korea Aerospace Industries’ (KAI) successful FA-50 light trainer and attack aircraft.

The single-seat KAI FA-50 project aims to replace the current design’s backseat and install a 300-gallon auxiliary fuel tank in its place to increase the type’s operational radius by up to 30%, according to MOTIE.

The ministry said on 3 May that KRW49.4 billion (USD36.39 million) will be invested with KAI to develop the single-seat version. The project aims to improve the FA-50’s ability to compete in the international market and expand the national “export portfolio”, according to the ministry.

South Korea has had considerable success with the T-50/FA-50 family in recent years. It is in the process of delivering the initial batch of 12 FA-50 GF (Gap Filler) aircraft to Poland under a broader US$3 billion arms package, with the remaining 36 FA-50PL (Poland) aircraft customised for the unique requirements of the Polish Air Force and expected to be delivered between 2025 and 2028.

KAI also secured a US$920 deal with the Malaysian Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) to supply 18 FA-50 aircraft in February 2023.

The company also announced in July 2021 that it had signed a US$240 million agreement with the Indonesian Ministry of Defence (MoD) to provide an additional six T-50i Golden Eagles for its lead-in fighter trainer (LIFT) programme. It added that the Indonesian deal will run through October 2024 and will include associated logistics support.

Elsewhere in the region, Thailand is also reportedly acquired another two more T-50TH advanced jet trainers to increase its lead-in jet trainer fleet to 14. The move is expected to enable the Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) to gradually phase out its Czech-made Aero Vodochody L-39ZA Albatross training aircraft fleet.

Besides Indonesia and Thailand, the Philippine Air Force (PAF) is also another operator of the type having acquired the 12 FA-50PH aircraft.

The FA-50 is a single-engine, supersonic aircraft developed by KAI and derived from the T-50 Golden Eagle trainer built for the Republic of Korea Air Force (RoKAF) with technical assistance from Lockheed Martin, with an eye on emerging international requirements for affordable lead-in fighter trainer and light-attack aircraft.

by Jr Ng