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IDF IAF fighter jet airstrike air strike 311 (R).(Photo by: Ho New / Reuters)
Korea, Lockheed Martin woo IAF with aircraft deal
Lockheed Martin says KIA partnership will make it easier for Israel to use foreign military funds it receives from US to purchase aircraft.
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.

In 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 companies.
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