Competition up for selling trainer planes to IAF

Israel Air Force plans request proposals from both Korea and Italy; aircraft purchase will be joint venture dubbed Tor Ltd.

IDF IAF fighter jet airstrike air strike 311 (R) (photo credit: Ho New / Reuters)
IDF IAF fighter jet airstrike air strike 311 (R)
(photo credit: Ho New / Reuters)
The competition to sell trainer aircraft to the Israel Air Force is heating up as the Defense Ministry gets ready to issue an official request for proposals from Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) and Italy’s Alenia Aermacchi.
The IAF plans to choose either KAI’s T-50 Golden Eagle or Aermacchi’s M-346 Master to replace its fleet of A-4 Skyhawks for advanced cadet training.
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Due to budget constraints, the aircraft will be bought by a joint venture set up by Elbit Systems and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) called Tor Ltd. that will then lease them to the IAF.
Delegations from Italy and Korea were recently in Israel and met with senior management at IAI and Elbit to discuss industrial cooperation in the framework of the sale of the trainer aircraft.
Defense officials said IAI was in talks with both companies about the possibility that the winner of the contract would open an assembly line in Israel to manufacture parts of the aircraft. Elbit is also in talks about integrating some of its equipment into the planes.
Known in Israel as the Ayit (Hawk), the Skyhawk initially arrived in Israel after the Six Day War and was Israel’s first American fighter jet.
It served prominently in the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and in the First Lebanon War in 1982. After that war, the IAF decided to phase it out from operational service and used it mostly as an advanced trainer for pilot cadets who had completed their primary and basic flight training on Fouga Magisters, which were recently replaced by the Beechcraft T6 turboprop.
In addition to the performance of the new advanced trainer, another consideration the Defense Ministry will consider in awarding the contract is the effect it will have on diplomatic relations with Italy and South Korea.
In South Korea, for example, Israeli defense companies are seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts that could be endangered if the IAF chooses the M-346 over the T-50.
On the other hand, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has lobbied Israel heavily on behalf of the plane’s manufacturer and the jet is seen as a leading candidate within diplomatic corridors due to the close ties Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has with his Italian counterpart.