By Shin Hyon-hee
South Korea on Thursday secured a contract to export four T-50 trainer jets to Thailand in another coup that marks the local defense industry’s growing technological clout.
The $110 million agreement was clinched between the Korea Aerospace Industries and the Thai government in Seoul. The supersonic aircraft, built with technical assistance from the American defense giant Lockheed Martin, is scheduled to be delivered by March 2018.
The Thai Air Force has been pushing to replace its L39 jets manufactured in the former Czechoslovakia and used for more than 30 years. Its cabinet approved 3.7 billion baht ($103 million) for the project late last year.
The country’s sole aircraft maker vied with those from the U.S., Russia, China and Italy. The Sacheon, South Gyeongsang Province-headquartered company and its Chinese competitor had been seen as the most likely winners.
“The decision by the Thai Air Force, which has long purchased cutting-edge weapons systems made by aerospace powerhouses, will provide a chance for its long-term partnership with KAI,” the firm said in a press statement.
“The T-50 is the best alternative for the force’s drive to modernize its military and cultivate fourth-generation combat pilots.”
The latest agreement may pave the way for additional sales of the T-50 as Thailand is reportedly seeking to bring in as many as 24 more trainer jets in the coming months. If KAI wins the contract, the sum is likely to near $800 million, the largest package for the model’s exports.
KAI is also setting sights on the U.S. Air Force’s $10 billion program called T-X to adopt new two-seat, faster jet trainers to replace the Northrop T-38 Talon. The winner is expected to be announced in the second half of 2017, company officials said. On the industry front, the deal highlights South Korea’s efforts to shore up its charges into the global warplane market.
KAI sealed a $420 million contract with the Philippines last year to sell 12 light attack FA-50 fighters, the T-50’s armed version, a $1.1 billion deal with Iraq in 2013 to supply 24 FA-50s and a $400 million bid with Indonesia in 2011 to provide 16 T-50s.
In 2013, Thailand signed its largest-ever naval procurement agreement worth 14.6 billion baht to purchase a multipurpose frigate from South Korea’s Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering, with its delivery slated for 2018.