Air Warfare

Seoul orders TA-50s, eyes new Chinooks and AEW aircraft

3rd July 2020 - 00:30 GMT | by Gordon Arthur in Christchurch

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In South Korea the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) has concluded a KRW688.3 billion ($619.5 million) deal for 20 TA-50 Block 2 jets from Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI).

The twin-seat TA-50 is a lead-in fighter trainer that doubles as a light attack aircraft. The new aircraft will be flown by the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF), alongside 22 TA-50 Block 1 jets already in service.

The contract was announced by DAPA on 29 June, with the explanation that the aircraft were needed to meet increasing air combat training requirements. The ROKAF will be retiring its F-5F trainers, plus it is currently inducting the F-35A, all factors that increase the demand for more KAI-built trainers in the ROKAF training pipeline.

The main improvement over the regular T-50 is inclusion of the IAI Elta EL/M-2032 fire control radar, which can allow missiles such as the AIM-9 Sidewinder and AGM-65 Maverick to be fired. Owning such aircraft will also help free up more of the air force’s KF-16 fighter fleet for other combat tasks.

The TA-50 is almost the same as the FA-50 light fighter, though it does not possess a Link 16 data link. Incidentally, the ROKAF is presently looking to upgrade its 60 FA-50s to improve armament options and flight range. Studies will occur from July-December this year, and options include a conformal fuel tank, targeting pod and beyond-visual-range air-to-air missiles.

The Defense Project Promotion Committee approved this TA-50 programme on 26 June with a completion date of 2024.

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The same committee approved a follow-on purchase of AEW aircraft plus next-generation Baekdu reconnaissance aircraft for the ROKAF. The latter will occur by 2026 with KRW870 billion available, while the AEW project is slated for 2021-25 with a budget of KRW1.59 trillion.

Two leading contenders have presented themselves for the AEW requirement: Boeing (with the E-737 Peace Eye) and Saab (offering GlobalEye). The budget could allow two Peace Eyes, or two or three GlobalEyes, to be acquired by 2027. Seoul already owns four Peace Eye platforms delivered from 2011 onwards.

DAPA said that more AEW aircraft are needed to ‘minimise potential surveillance gaps amid growing security threats by neighbouring countries’. Russian and Chinese aircraft routinely intrude into South Korea’s air defence identification zone, while North Korea remains a perennial threat.

The reconnaissance aircraft programme was listed in the 2020-24 Mid-Term Defense Acquisition Plan. It comprises two Baekdu-II Falcon 2000S SIGINT aircraft, to augment two that already operate alongside four Hawker 800 Peace Krypton aircraft. However, the latter type will be due for retirement soon as they were procured in 1996.

The ROKAF also wants up to four ISTAR aircraft. DAPA previously issued an RfI in 2018. Respondents include a Boeing P-8-based airframe fitted with Raytheon’s Advanced Airborne Sensor radar; Raytheon with its Bombardier Global 6500-based Sentinel; and IAI Elta with its Gulfstream G550-based ELI-3150 Mars2.

The ROKAF also has a requirement for a dedicated EW aircraft akin to the EA-18G Growler.

In one final piece of aircraft news relating to South Korea, according to the Republic of Korea Armed Forces blogsite on Facebook, the country hopes to purchase 22 CH-47F Chinook helicopters, which is considerably more than the ten previously mentioned. Ten of this 22-strong order will apparently be customised for special operations as MH-47 variants. Once contracted, these could be delivered by 2026-2027.

In addition to new-build Chinooks, the ROKAF and ROK Army (ROKA) will upgrade 17 of 43 in-service CH-47D aircraft. Rockwell Collins is cooperating with KAI, and Boeing is teaming with Korean Air, to vie for this contract.

Those serving helicopters not being upgraded are six CH-47DLRs and 14 ex-US Army CH-47DNEs of the ROKA, plus six HH-47D combat search and rescue helicopters of the ROKAF.

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