Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) said Thursday that it has signed a $110 million deal to export four T-50 supersonic trainer jets to Thailand. Under the deal, the Korean company will deliver the trainer jets within 30 months. The signing ceremony took place at the JW Marriott Hotel in Seoul.
Thailand selected the KAI T-50 over the Chinese-made L-15 to replace aging trainer aircraft for its Air Force, according to sources. “Thailand, which has chosen countries whose air weapon industries are advanced, selected an Asian country this time,” KAI said in a statement.
“This contract will be an opportunity for KAI to establish a long term partnership with the Thai Air Force,” it added, indicating that the export of more jets could follow.
Thailand has been operating L-39 trainer jets made by the Czech Republic, and is replacing them as it has been more than 30 years since their production.
At the end of last year, the Thai government approved a budget to purchase four new trainers. Competitors in a bidding battle included the United States, Russia and Italy as well as Korea and China.
Thailand has been interested in Korean-made weapons. It purchased a 500 billion won frigate made by Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering for its Navy in 2013.
KAI developed the T-50 in 2001 with technical assistance from the U.S. aerospace giant Lockheed Martin. About 2 trillion won was invested in the large-scale national project to develop the homegrown supersonic trainer jet that took eight years to realize.
The Korean company, based in Sacheon, South Gyeongsang Province, has also manufactured aerobatic and combat variants, namely the T-50B, TA-50 and FA-50, as well as the Surion utility helicopter.
Some 50 T-50s have been deployed in the South Korean Air Force, while 16 jets were exported to Indonesia in 2011.
Korea had also signed a deal with Iraq to export 24 T-50s in 2013, and with the Philippines to export 12 FA-50s, a light combat version of the T-50, in 2014.
The government is also seeking to sell 24 FA-50s to Peru by participating in the country’s fighter purchase project.
Sources said selling the light attack aircraft along with programs to train pilots would be worth about $1 billion. Considering the necessary logistical support, the total amount of exports could reach $2 billion.
Lima is expected to select a fighter jet model within the year among bidders.
First unveiled in January 2006, the most advanced variant of the T-50 family operated by the South Korean Air Force, the FA-50 was developed as a replacement for the Air Force’s F-5E/F when the aging fighters are retired.