Def. Min. in final talks with S. Korea over jet contract

Defense Ministry Dir.-Gen. Udi Shani will head to South Korea to discuss ongoing tender for Israel Air Force's next trainer aircraft.

January 4, 2012 01:23
2 minute read.
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Defense Ministry Director-General Udi Shani left Thursday morning for South Korea in a final round of talks ahead of an Israeli decision over an ongoing tender for the Israel Air Force’s next trainer aircraft.

Shani will meet top Korean defense officials in Seoul in an effort to nail down the level of industrial cooperation Israeli defense industries can expect to receive from Korea if the IAF selects Korean Aerospace Industries’ (KAI) T-50 Golden Eagle.

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Shani’s trip to Seoul comes just a week after he visited Italy, the other contender in the race which has offered Alenia Aermacchi M-346 Master. The aircraft selected by Israel will replace the Skyhawk, currently used as a trainer by IAF pilots in the advanced stages of their training.

A senior defense official said Tuesday that both planes were similar in their operational capabilities and that a decision on the winner would depend on the level of industrial cooperation Israel would benefit from following its selection.

Italy has told Israel that it would purchase platforms from local defense contractors valued at $1 billion. During Shani’s visit to Seoul on Wednesday, he will look to receive a definitive offer from the Korean government.

Italy had been a front runner in the tender due to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s close ties with Silvio Berlusconi, who stepped down as Italy’s prime minister in November. It is unclear what effect his departure has on the deal and some Israeli industry executives have cast doubt as to the viability of future deals with Italy, which is facing a dire economic crisis.

KAI has found support among leading Israeli defense companies that are lobbying the Defense Ministry to select the T-50 due to the potential contracts they stand to win in return from South Korea.

The Korean military is interested, for example, in purchasing the Iron Dome counterrocket defense system as well as new drones, anti-tank missiles, new command-and-control systems and upgrades for its combat aircraft.

Italy has also raised the possibility of conducting the deal with Israel by barter, under which it would receive two airborne earlywarning and control aircraft from IAI and in exchange would provide Israel with the M-346.

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