For South Korea, the U.S. is the biggest potential market as its military is seeking to secure up to around 500 trainer jets.
Experts estimate that the world demand for trainer jets over the next three decades will amount to around 3,300 units. The KAI hopes to export around 1,000 trainer jets during that period.
Next month, the U.S. government’s Defense Advisory Board will determine whether it would acquire trainer jets or develop a new one. Industry watchers anticipate that the U.S. government’s request for proposals will be made in 2012 with an aim to start deploying at least one squadron of around 20 trainers in 2017.
Stressing that affordability will be key in the upcoming T-X competition in the U.S., Griswold painted a positive outlook for the T-50. Along with the T-50, the U.S. air force is studying the M-346 of Italy and the Hawk 128 of Britain as possible candidates.
“We believe T-50 has a very strong chance of winning because of its operational status. We have a long history of working together, and there is no doubt we can form an opportunity here. It is a healthy and very mature program,” he said.
As for the plan to build a new assembly line in the U.S., some critics here also voiced concern that Lockheed Martin may have to readjust the work share ratio due to the Buy American Act. The existing contract states that KAI takes 70 percent of the T-50 production work while Lockheed takes the rest.
Regarding this, Griswold said, “We can still distribute the profit in any way we choose irrespective of the act.”
There have not been any in-depth bilateral discussions made yet regarding how the two sides will operate the two assembly lines to export T-50s, officials said. Watchers say that should the U.S. air force purchase T-50s, there may be readjustments in the contract regarding the sharing of the work and profits.
Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin officials hinted that its company could transfer some stealth technologies should Seoul agree to purchase F-35 fighter jets it is producing as long as the U.S. government okays it.
“I believe, in terms of what technologies they (Korea) would like to see, we will go back to the U.S. government and get release of those technologies, and work with Korea Aerospace Industries,” Stephen O’Bryan, vice president for the F-35 Business Development and Customer Engagement at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company.
“I think our history speaks for itself. T-50, KF-16 … I would like to ask you to look at our history in working with Korea Aerospace Industries, and our ability and desire to transfer that technology.”
He also reaffirmed that the per-unit price for the F-35 to be delivered to South Korea will be around $65 million in 2016.
“That (price) curve is quantity-dependent, but the estimate … I expect the unit price average to be below $65 million, but I will not know until we see the ROP,” he said.
“If the ROK (Republic of Korea) number is added (to the total price calculation), that will have a positive, a lower price benefit. Japan is also not added in there. Singapore was not added. At this point, Israel is not added. So, that curve will be adjusted as the quantities change.”
South Korea has been accelerating moves to purchase a high-end fleet of stealth fighters to counter North Korea’s asymmetrical threats and keep pace with neighboring countries seeking to secure their own radar-evading combat aircraft.
Under the FX-III acquisition project worth around 8 trillion won, the Seoul government is seeking to purchase some 60 next-generation fighters with an aim to have them delivered for operational deployment to begin in 2016.
Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightening II, Boeing’s F-15 Silent Eagle and the Eurofighter Typhoon made by a European consortium are being cited as the likely candidates for the FX-III project.
By Song Sang-ho, Korea Herald correspondent