IAF trainer race heats up with letter

Deal could strengthen defense ties, South Korean president tells Peres.

Korean Aerospace Industries’ T-50 advanced trainer 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Korean Aerospace Industries’ T-50 advanced trainer 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The competition to sell the Israel Air Force advanced combat trainers moved up a notch this week after South Korean President Lee Myung-bak sent a letter to President Shimon Peres regarding the deal, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
In the letter, Lee praised the ongoing defense cooperation between the two countries and referred to the trainer competition as an example of how to strengthen those ties.
Last week, South Korea submitted an industrial cooperation package to the Defense Ministry in a bid to win the tender, which has received a great deal of media attention in recent months due to the potential political ramifications Israel’s decision will draw.
Korea has offered the T-50 Golden Eagle made by Korean Aerospace Industries, which is competing against Italy’s Alenia Aermacchi M-346 Master.
The Korean proposal is believed to be for over $1.5 billion in industrial cooperation for Israeli defense contractors if the Korean Aerospace Industries plane is selected.
Peres and Lee met in June 2010 when the Israeli president traveled to Seoul at the head of a large business delegation, but the letter is the first time South Korea’s political leadership is known to have brought up the competition with Israeli leaders.
Silvio Berlusconi is said to have lobbied Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu over the M-346 before stepping down as Italy’s prime minister in late 2011.
The deal is for some 30 aircraft – valued at just over $1 billion – which the IAF plans to use to replace its aging fleet of A-4 Skyhawks, which are currently used to train cadets during advanced pilot training.
Defense Ministry officials said this week that a final decision was expected by the end of the month. The ministry’s procurement department is scheduled to submit its recommendation to Udi Shani, the director-general, who will make the final decision in consultation with Defense Minister Ehud Barak.