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RMAF to Acquire Korea’s FA-50 Light Combat Aircraft

The Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) FA-50 has won Malaysia’s Fighter Lead In Trainer-Light Combat Aircraft (FLIT-LCA) requirement for 18 aircraft.

The deal is worth $920 million, and deliveries will commence from 2026, says KAI. In the longer-term, it expects Malaysia’s total acquisition to grow to 36 examples.

Kuala Lumpur’s FA-50s will come with several enhancements, namely the ability to conduct air-to-air refuelling and an expanded weapons capability.

“This export is the fruit of strengthening cooperation between the two governments,” says KAI president and chief executive Kang Goo-young. “KAI will play a role as a long-term partner through defence cooperation as well as successful delivery and operational support of [the] FA-50.”

Kuala Lumpur, long in need of recapitalising its fast jet fleet, kicked off the FLIT-LCA requirement in June 2021, as part of the air force’s Capability 55 plan issued in 2018, outlining its goal of reaching a desired force structure by 2055.

The requirement soon attracted an eclectic group of contestants. In addition to the FA-50, rivals for the deal comprised the Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL) Tejas, Chengdu-Pakistan Aeronautical Complex JF-17, RAC MiG-29, and the Turkish Aerospace Hurjet.

The FA-50 and Tejas were the only aircraft on the final shortlist.

With the deal, Malaysia becomes the third Southeast Asian country to acquire a T-50 family aircraft, after the Philippines and Indonesia.

Including Malaysia, KAI says it has sold 120 T-50 variants. Customers include Indonesia with 22, Iraq with 24, the Philippines with 12, and Poland, which last year ordered 48. The T-50 and FA-50 are also in service with the Republic of Korea Air Force.

At the Farnborough Airshow in July 2022, Lee Bong Keun, vice-president and general manager of KAI’s international business division, told FlightGlobal that the company aimed to secure 1,000 international FA-50 sales over a 10-year period.

This number includes requirements from the US Air Force (USAF) and US Navy for additional training aircraft, as well as the need for “red air” aircraft to serve in aggressor training missions.

The FA-50/T-50 is powered by a single GE Aerospace F404 engine. – FlightGlobal

Features of the light combat aircraft

The FA-50, which is based on the T-50 supersonic advanced trainer platform, is offered as an affordable and efficient supersonic advanced light attack platform.

The combat aircraft is intended to meet the light fighter requirements of air forces around the world. The advanced radar provides the FA-50 jet with detection capability, which is similar to that of the KF-16 fighter.

The FA-50 measures 13.14m in length, 9.45m in width, and 4.82m in height. The empty weight of the aircraft is 6.47t. It can take-off with a maximum gross weight of 12.3t.

FA-50 light combat aircraft cockpit and avionics

KAI FA-50’s tandem glass cockpit can carry two crew members. It is equipped with a wide field of view head-up display (HUD), colour multifunction displays (MFDs), digital engine instrumentation, Hands On Throttle-And-Stick (HOTAS), integrated up-front controls, and zero-zero ejection seat.

The flight control systems include digital fly-by-wire, active stick, electrical emergency power unit, digital break-by-wire and triple redundant electrical system.

The cockpit also integrates an On-Board Oxygen Generation Systems (OBOGS). The Night Vision Imaging System (NVIS) aboard the aircraft ensures mission capability during day and night.

The avionics package consists of embedded Inertial Navigation System/Global Positioning System (INS/GPS), integrated mission computer, identification, friend or foe (IFF), radar altimeter, multimode radar, store management system, UHF/VHF radio, tactical data link, data transfer and recording system, Radar Warning Receiver (RWR) and Counter Measure Dispensing System (CMDS).

Weapon systems on the South Korean aircraft

FA-50 aircraft can carry a weapons load of up to 4.5t. The aircraft can be armed with AIM-9 Sidewinder short-range air-to-air missiles, AGM-65 Maverick air-to-ground tactical missiles (AGM), GBU-38/B Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM), CBU-105 Sensor Fused Weapon (SFW), Mk-82 Low Drag General Purpose (LDGP) bombs and Cluster Bomb Units (CBUs).

The aircraft is also mounted with an internal, three-barrel 20mm Gatling gun and LAU-3/A 19-tube 2.75″ rocket launcher for firing Folding-Fin Aerial Rockets (FFAR). The wide range of weapon systems aboard the FA-50 jet allows it to counter multiple threats in today’s complex battlefield scenario.

FA-50 aircraft engines and performance

The power-plant of the KAI FA-50 aircraft integrates a General Electric F404-GE-102 turbofan engine developing 17,700lbf of thrust with afterburner. The engine’s performance is controlled by dual-channel full authority digital engine control (FADEC) system.

The fuel is supplied from the internal fuel tanks. The aircraft can carry 568L of additional fuel in its external fuel tank. The power plant provides a maximum speed of 1,837.5km/h (Mach 1.5).

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