Competitor To LCA Tejas, South Korea Vies To Pip Indian Fighter To Win Big Deals With Poland, Malaysia — Reports

Poland is about to purchase 48 FA-50 light fighters from Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) as part of a series of defense contracts between Poland and South Korea that are reportedly scheduled to be signed very soon.

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KAI is one of the three Korean defense companies, including Hyundai Rotem and Hanwha Defense, that are expected to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Polish Ministry of Defense for various arms exports, as per reports.

A high-ranking official from the Korean Presidential Office reportedly met the executives of these companies to discuss export volume, price, and timeline, shortly after President Yoon Suk-yeol’s ‘sales diplomacy’ during the recent NATO Summit to promote South Korean nuclear power plants and weapons.

FA-50 Fighting Eagle
An FA-50 Fighting Eagle. (Wikipedia)

The Polish government is reportedly discussing the purchase of 48 FA-50 light attack aircraft from KAI for $ 2.6 billion. Other weapons discussed for export deals include the K-2 tanks from Hyundai Rotem and K9 self-propelled artillery from Hanwha.

The FA-50 Fighting Eagle

The FA-50 Fighting Eagle is a supersonic light attack fighter developed by KAI in collaboration with the US defense company Lockheed Martin. It is based on the T-50 Golden Eagle advanced training jet.

The ‘T-50’ series of aircraft includes supersonic trainers, light combat aircraft, and multirole fighters, and the FA-50 is a multirole fighter variant.

A TA-50 group display at the Republic of Korea Air Force airbase (Wikipedia)

The lightweight fighter can carry a weapons payload of 4.5 tons. Among the weapons FA-50 can carry are the AIM-9 Sidewinder short-range air-to-air missiles, AGM-65 Maverick air-to-ground tactical missiles (AGM), GBU-38/B Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM), CBU-105 Sensor Fused Weapon (SFW), Mk-82 Low Drag General Purpose (LDGP) bombs, and Cluster Bomb Units (CBUs).

In addition, the aircraft is armed with an internal three-barrel 20mm Gatling gun and an LAU-3/A 19-tube 2.75″ rocket launcher to fire Folding-Fin Aerial Rockets (FFAR).

The FA-50 is powered by a General Electric F404 turbofan engine with an afterburner that provides an output of 17,700lbf.

In recent years South Korea has been making concerted efforts to export the FA-50 to various countries, Poland being the latest one.

The countries that have bought F-50s from South Korea include the Philippines and Iraq. The aircraft was first seen in action during the Battle of Marawi in the Philippines when it was used against terrorists affiliated with the Islamic State.

Apart from that, the T-50 trainer jets have also been sold to Indonesia and Thailand.

Also, Colombia’s Air Force has reportedly selected a mix of TA-50 and FA-50 aircraft as part of a $600 million acquisition program to replace its retired Cessna A-37B Dragonfly twin-engine light-attack fleet jets.

The Fighting Eagle vs. India’s LCA-Tejas

The F-50 is also battling India’s Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas Mk1A made by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) for the contract of 36 light fighter aircraft for the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF).

Initially, Pakistan’s JF-17, Russia’s Mig-35 and Yak-130, and Turkey’s Hurjet were also in the competition, but reports suggest that only the Korean, Indian and Turkish jets are now left in the race.

The Indian Air Force Tejas perform at the Singapore Air Show opening ceremony on February 15, 2022.

On July 19, a Singapore-based media outlet claimed to have learned from a senior KAI official that Malaysia could select KAI’s F-50 over the LCA-Tejas.

“Malaysia is in advanced talks with us. The two countries believe that bilateral cooperation in the defense industry can become a symbol of mutual trust and a robust strategic partnership,” a senior KAI official was cited as saying by GBP.

The revelation came shortly after reports of LCA-Tejas being the top choice of the Malaysian government because of the package deal offered by India to set up a maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) facility in Malaysia for its fleet of Russian-made Sukhoi Su-30 fighter jets.

“It (negotiation) is almost in the final stages. We are the only country which is offering them the support for their Su-30 aircraft as well as other than Russia, we are the only one who can support them to the extent that they require for that fleet,” said R Madhavan, Chairman and Managing Director of (HAL).

The Tejas and the FA-50 cost approximately $28 million and $30 million per unit, respectively.

HAL Tejas’ open architecture computer systems can incorporate both Russian and Western armaments, which could provide an edge to the Indian-made light fighter, as India and Malaysia share a common military strategy of using both Russian and NATO weapons systems.