SOFIA ($1=1.92 Bulgarian Levs) — Poland signed a contract with South Korea to acquire 672 self-propelled howitzers K9 Thunder, 1,000 South Korean K2 main battle tanks, and 48 FA-50 light combat aircraft. This is a success for an aircraft [FA-50] that first flew only in 2002. Since then, orders have been received from over half a dozen countries – both combat and training versions.
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The training aircraft T-50 [training version of the FA-50] is considered the most combat-capable in the world, without the analogous machines of Taiwan and mainland China. The FA-50, on the other hand, has low operating costs and ease of maintenance, significantly increasing airworthiness.
Since its Taiwanese rival, the Brave Eagle, has yet to appear, the T-50 is widely regarded as the most advanced trainer aircraft compatible with US and NATO equipment, with even the US Air Force showing interest in acquiring it.
Poland is seeking to maximize its combat potential amid rising tensions with neighboring Russia, as well as the imminent mass decommissioning of three Su-22 and MiG-29 squadrons acquired during the Soviet era.
FA-50s were widely used in combat operations in the Philippines and Iraq in operations against insurgents and Islamist militants, but the ability of these light combat aircraft to significantly affect the outcome of operations against the modern armed forces of Russia or Belarus remains in question.
FA-50 against Russian fighters
The main disadvantage of the FA-50 as a modern fighter is the lack of air combat capabilities beyond visual visibility, i.e. missing onboard radar. On the Korean Peninsula, this potential is quite sufficient [the main part of the DPRK Air Force is deprived of even this], but in Eastern Europe, it will be a serious drawback: the Russian Air Force is equipped with the latest world-class aviation with air-to-air missiles.
Although the installation of AIM-120C missiles, which are superior to most of the active weapons of the Russian and Belarusian fighter squadrons, was previously considered, these plans have not yet been implemented.
As a result, fighters were left with AIM-9 infrared homing missiles and an A-50 Gatling-type cannon. However, it cannot be ruled out that in the future the FA-50 could still be modified to use the AIM-120C. In addition, the prospect of installing anti-ship cruise missiles is being considered.
Did Poland not open the door to KF-21 in Europe?
The news of a major F-50 sale in Poland came just days after the first flight of the KF-21 stealth fighter. This makes South Korea the fourth country in this exclusive club and the first newcomer since 2011 when China first raised its J-20 prototype.
The sale of the FA-50 is expected not only to provide the program with a new flow of funds to develop several announced modifications, such as an electronic jamming aircraft but also to open the door to deliveries to Poland of the KF-21 as a higher-up partner level in the future.
The first 12 FA-50s will be of the Block 10 standard, which corresponds to the machines available in the South Korean Air Force. They will be delivered in mid-2023. The remaining aircraft will be of the new Block 20 standard, which includes the integration of a Sniper targeting container, AIM-9X close-in air combat missiles, and a Link 16 data exchange system. In the future, they will receive the AIM-120 long-range missiles. The Block 20 fighters will be delivered between 2025 and 2028.
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