Four Korean FA-50 light attackers may find a new home in West Africa

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There’s a buzz around the news that Senegal is moving forward with its plan to buy FA-50 Fighting Eagle light combat aircraft from South Korea. The exact numbers and costs aren’t known yet, but rumors suggest the order could be for four FA-50s, costing a whopping $147 million.  

Photo credit: European Post

So, let’s talk about the FA-50. This super-fast and versatile aircraft is the result of a partnership between Korea Aerospace Industries [KAI] and Lockheed Martin. It’s a modification of the T-50, an advanced training aircraft that has been part of the Republic of Korea Air Force [ROKAF] since 2013. What makes the FA-50 special? It has a tactical data link, advanced defense mechanisms, and accuracy-guided weaponry. Plus, it’s adaptable to different combat situations, including air-to-air, air-to-ground, and sea-to-air battles. Sounds pretty cool, huh?  

Senegal’s move to include FA-50s in their fleet came about after unsuccessful plans to purchase L-39NG light attack aircraft from Aero Vodochody. General Pape Suleiman, the respected head of Senegal’s air force, announced his plan to find a new supplier for four light combat aircraft. He chose the FA-50s made by KAI.

Photo credit: Pinterest

Egypt is another alleged user

Senegal currently operates a fleet of 25 aircraft, primarily helicopters, with six Daher Socata TB 30s utilized for training. The imminent addition of the FA-50 will greatly enhance Senegal’s aerial power. It’s a cost-effective and reliable option for their pilots.  

The FA-50 aircraft has sparked interest not just in Senegal, but across the whole African continent. Korean Aerospace Industries [KAI] announced in September 2022 that the first FA-50 would be shipped to an unspecified African nation. Both Senegal and Egypt are considered as possible recipients. The latter has recent ties with South Korea, arising from an agreement to produce T-50/FA-50 planes at their Helwan-based AOI aircraft factory. Historically, this factory was functional in building Chinese K-8E trainers, licensed specifically for the Egyptian Air Force. The current demand in Egypt for new trainer planes might direct the country towards acquiring as many as 100 aircraft. 

The South Korean aircraft, FA-50, is earning attention globally, particularly in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. It appeals to countries that are aiming to bolster their self-defense mechanisms or need to replenish arsenals after supporting Ukraine.

The FA-50 is a cost-effective aircraft

“Given the increasing uncertainty in certain parts of the world, nations are becoming increasingly aware of potential security threats. Consequently, they are raising their defense budgets and investing in military gear, such as fighter jets, to strengthen their self-reliance in defense,” stated Lee Bong-keun, Vice President and General Manager of KAI’s international business department, during an interview with the Yonhap news agency. 

“What people desire are aircraft that are economical, reliable, and efficient. The FA-50 perfectly ticks these boxes, not least because it is extensively used by the South Korean Air Force,” Lee explained. He claimed that a considerable number of FA-50s have already been sold internationally. 

The FA-50 is more than just an exceptional training tool—it can also serve as a lightweight combat vehicle when equipped with the appropriate weaponry. Its dual-purpose ability, coupled with its reasonable pricing, makes Korean aircraft a favored choice among developing nations.

Increased demand is expected

The T-50 series, which includes the FA-50, is known as a “multi-role” aircraft. These aircraft are incredibly efficient, saving substantial time and money, especially when preparing pilots for high-performance fighter jets like the F-16 and F-35. This is particularly significant for the Koreans, who manufacture these versatile machines. 

Photo credit: KAI

But the FA-50 is not just versatile, it’s also a major player in the global market. Consider this: it has secured a significant deal with Poland to deliver 48 FA-50s. This is particularly intriguing because, in 2013, Poland chose the Italian M-346 over the T-50. However, come 2022, they reversed their decision. And it doesn’t stop there. The FA-50 outperformed India’s Tejas and China’s L-15, securing a deal to supply 18 FA-50s to Malaysia, bringing in a staggering $919.70 million in 2023. 

The future looks promising for the FA-50. KAI, the company behind this impressive jet, aims to sell a total of 1,000 units of the T-50 and its variants worldwide. Given the aircraft’s successful performance up to this point, it’s likely to continue attracting more global customers.

FA-50’s facts

The FA-50 is a compact aircraft, measuring only 13.14 meters in length, 9.45 meters in width, and 4.94 meters in height. Despite its size, it’s a swift mover – capable of reaching speeds of Mach 1.5. Plus, with a range of 1,851 kilometers, it can traverse significant distances. This powerful jet can soar up to astonishing heights of 14,630 meters and carry a substantial takeoff weight of 12,300 kilograms. What’s more, it’s equipped with a modern digital fly-by-wire system that enhances its maneuverability and makes it more user-friendly. 

The FA-50’s propulsion system relies on a single turbofan engine manufactured by General Electric, referred to as the F404-GE-102. This powerhouse can produce an impressive thrust of up to 17,700 pounds, granting the aircraft its acclaimed speed and long-range capabilities.

FA-50’s avionics

The FA-50’s electronics primarily comprise a digital control system, a hands-on throttle and stick [HOTAS] system, and a multifaceted radar. The digital control system facilitates more precise and user-friendly aircraft handling. The HOTAS system allows pilots to operate the plane’s functions without the need to remove their hands from the controls. 

In simple terms, the FA-50’s versatile radar can simultaneously monitor and identify various targets. It also excels in topography mapping. This aircraft features a combined tactical navigation and attack system. Additionally, it has an extensive electronic defense system, which includes radar warning systems and equipment for deploying defensive decoys.

FA-50’s armament

When discussing the armament of the FA-50, we should note that it’s a multi-purpose light combat aircraft equipped to handle a variety of weapons. This jet comes with a 20mm cannon, and offers mount-points for a range of missiles and precision bombs; these can be either air-launched or ground-targeted. 

The FA-50 is capable of carrying a diverse selection of missiles and bombs. For air combat, it utilizes both short-range and medium-range missiles. In addition, it’s equipped to defend against surface threats with a payload that includes anti-ship missiles, anti-radiation missiles, and a variety of guided bombs. 

Moreover, the FA-50 can hold a variety of conventional weapons like rocket pods and standard bombs. This versatility expands the aircraft’s utility in numerous scenarios, ranging from air supremacy operations and ground attack missions to reconnaissance and training exercises.

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