Korean Aerospace Industries’ T-50 advanced trainer 311.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
SEOUL – A competition to sell the Israel Air Force’s new advanced combat
trainers is heating up as a Korean defense delegation plans to arrive in Israel
next month to sign an agreement paving the way for increased cooperation and
potentially $5 billion in sales for Israeli companies.
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The agreement is
part of a South Korean effort to persuade Israel to select Korean Aerospace
Industries’ (KAI’s) T-50 advanced trainer as the replacement for the IAF’s aging
fleet of A-4 Skyhawks, which are currently used to train cadets in their
advanced pilot training.
Competing against the T-50 is Italy’s Alenia
Aermacchi M-346 Master.
KAI alone has offered Israel over $1b. in
industrial cooperation if its aircraft is chosen.
The remaining deals are
expected from the Korean government.
“Potential cooperation could be on
the T-50, our helicopters and other programs,” Enes Park, senior executive
vice-president of marketing for KAI, told The Jerusalem Post
last week during a
visit to company headquarters.
Park said that KAI was also in talks with
Israel Aerospace Industries and Elbit Systems about possibly establishing joint
ventures that could lead to fat contracts for Israeli defense
IAI is interested in manufacturing the wings for all T- 50s
sold throughout the world and Elbit has been offered to develop a new flight
simulator for the aircraft.
The competition has received a great deal of
media attention due to claims by Korea that Italy has received preferred
treatment throughout the tender. Park said that KAI was surprised to hear that
the Italian government was proposing additional deals to Israel before the
request for proposal (RFP) had been issued.
The RFP – a mandatory stage
in a tender – was supposed to be issued to the companies over the summer but has
been postponed until early 2012. The IAF has conducted extensive reviews of both
planes and the decision on the winner is up to the Defense Ministry. Industrial
cooperation and economic benefits for Israeli companies are playing a key role
in the ministry’s considerations.
“We were surprised to hear that the
Italian government is already proposing deals to Israel before the RFP, against
international standards,” Park said.
Italy had been a frontrunner in the
tender due to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s close ties with Silvio
Berlusconi, who stepped down as Italy’s prime minister last week. It is unclear
what effect his departure will have on the deal.
The Italians’ bid also
took a hit last week after an M-346 crashed off the coast of Dubai. The cause of
the accident is under investigation.
KAI has found support among leading
Israeli defense companies which are lobbying the Defense Ministry to select the
T-50 due to the potential contracts they stand to win in return from
The Korean military is interested, for example, in purchasing the
Iron Dome counter-rocket defense system, in upgrades for its combat aircraft, in
new drones, anti-tank missiles and in new command-and-control
Italy has also offered Israel an industrial cooperation package
but it is estimated to be under $1b. In addition, some Israeli industry
executives have cast doubt as to the viability of future deals with Italy which
is facing a dire economic crisis.
Italy has also raised the possibility
of conducting the deal with Israel by barter under which it would receive two
airborne early warning and control aircraft from IAI and in exchange would
provide Israel with the M-346.