Israel has decided to purchase 30 Italian-made trainer aircraft in its $1 billion procurement project, snubbing South Korea’s efforts to sell its homegrown planes overseas.
Israeli defense officials told the media on Thursday that their government had reached a preliminary deal to buy the M-346 military training planes built by the Italian firm Alenia Aermacchi.
Israeli officials, quoted in news reports, cited the suitability of the Italian jets to the direct needs of the Israeli air force, the cost and other factors as the reason for the choice.
With support from the Seoul government, Korea Aerospace Industries, the country’s sole aircraft maker, has made aggressive efforts to sell its T-50 supersonic trainer jets to Israel.
KAI developed the T-50 with technological assistance from the U.S. defense giant Lockheed Martin. It has a maximum speed of Mach 1.5 with a maximum range of about 1,500 kilometers.
“We have yet to receive any formal notification about Israel’s decision to purchase Italy’s trainer aircraft. I understand officials in Israel told local reporters about it,” a KAI official told The Korea Herald on condition of anonymity.
“There Israeli government did not carry out an official bidding process. We have sought to tap into the market and Israel just considered the two trainer jets. So, it is not right to say we have lost in any official competition there.”
He downplayed any negative impact from Israel’s decision on the overseas marketing efforts.
“Israel was just one of the countries to which we have sought to export our T-50. In the defense industry, there are political, diplomatic variables as well, which are apparently as important as (equipment’s) actual qualities,” he said.
Israel has long maintained strong traditional ties with Italy. Industry insiders said it was a tough battle for Seoul to overcome the limits stemming from the close relationship between the two countries.
KAI is currently seeking to sell T-50 aircraft to the U.S., Chile, the Philippines and other nations. Last May, it signed a $400 million contract with Indonesia to for 16 T-50s.
Having developed the FA-50 light combat plane based on the T-50 platform, the firm has also been working to tap into the countries that have to replace their aging F-4 and F-5 fighters.
Experts have estimated that the global demand for trainer jets and light fighters over the next three decades will amount to around 3,300 units. KAI aims to export around 1,000 units during that period.
By Song Sang-ho (firstname.lastname@example.org)