In a move that’s likely to increase Israeli interest in its aircraft,
Korea Aerospace Industries announced Sunday it was partnering with
Lockheed Martin to market the T-50 supersonic trainer under
consideration by the Israel Air Force.
The IAF is looking to replace its aging fleet of A-4 Skyhawks, which are used to train cadets in their advanced pilot training.
The competition is down to KAI’s T-50 and Italy’s Alenia Aermacchi M-346 Master.
addition to the performance of the aircraft, other considerations for
Israel are the effect the decision will have on Israel’s diplomatic
relations with Italy and South Korea.
In South Korea, for
example, Israeli defense companies are seeking hundreds of millions of
dollars in new contracts that could be endangered if the IAF chooses the
Italian plane. On the other hand, Italian Prime Minister Silvio
Berlusconi has personally lobbied Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu
about purchasing the Italian aircraft.
The Defense Ministry is
expected to make a final decision on the deal in the beginning of 2012.
The IAF is seeking between 25 and 35 jets in a deal that is expected to
reach $1 billion.
Lockheed Martin released a statement on Sunday saying that by partnering
with KAI in marketing the plane, it would be easier for Israel to use
foreign military funds it receives from the US to purchase the aircraft.
It is unclear if Israel would be able to use the US military aid if it
decides to purchase Italy’s M-346. Last week, The Jerusalem Post
reported the Italian government is in talks with the Defense Ministry
about the possibility that the deal will be done by barter and that
Italy will receive two AWACS aircraft from Israel Aerospace Industries
and in exchange will provide Israel with the M-346.
On Sunday, a delegation of South Korean defense officials arrived in
Israel for talks with the Defense Ministry regarding the deal and
potential future cooperation between Seoul and Israeli defense