By Lee Tae-hoon
Korea is seeking to export basic trainer planes to Peru, but the prospect remains uncertain due to the political future of the South American country, arms trade officials said Friday.
One official told The Korea Times asking for anonymity that Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) has offered to sell 25 KT-1 trainer jets at around $200 million ahead of the presidential election in Peru in June.
Rep. Lee Sang-deuk, older brother of President Lee Myung-bak, also claimed that he received assurances from outgoing Peruvian President Alan Garcia earlier in the day that his country would purchase basic trainer planes from KAI during a one-hour one-on-one meeting with him.
“Garcia expressed his intention to import KT-1 trainer jets from KAI,” the six-term lawmaker told the media. “He was well aware of the outstanding features of the Korean-made KT-1 planes and was satisfied with a wide range of supportive measures that the package offers, including a civilian pilot training program.”
Lee was visiting the Peruvian capital Lima as a special presidential envoy along with KIA president Kim Hong-kyung.
Observers, however, say Garcia’s promise to the senior legislator of the ruling Grand National Party can be easily ignored by the new leadership of the Latin American country.
Peru will hold a presidential run-off election on June 5, pitting former coup-plotting army officer Ollanta Humala against Keiko Fujimori, daughter of disgraced ex-leader Alberto Fujimori.
Outgoing Peruvian President Garcia cannot run in the presidential race as Peru's Constitution prohibits re-election for a second consecutive term.
Despite the skepticism, Rep. Lee said he is optimistic about the export of the Korean planes, saying “President Garcia promised to confirm the deal after consulting with the defense ministry."
Chung Jae-yoon, spokesman of the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA), noted that once Garcia signs the deal, Korea will become a preferred bidder to export the planes, beating its rival Embraer EMB 314 Super Tucano from Brazil.
He shrugged off Lee’s claim, saying formal negotiations have yet to start over the deal between the two countries.
“Not a single thing has been confirmed over the sales of the KT-1,” he said.
Another defense official said Lee and Kim attempted to secure preferred bidder status before Garcia leaves office, but failed to do so as the outgoing Peruvian president apparently feared a public backlash over any such deal.
Korea has thus far sold 17 of the trainer jets to Indonesia and 40 to Turkey.
The KT-1 engaged in its first flight in the early 1990s. Eighty five of the aircraft are in service here.
It has a maximum speed of 574 kilometers per hour and can reach an attitude of 11,000 meters, with engineers having developed a forward air control version that can be armed with weapons.
The legislator is on a 13-day trip as a presidential envoy to Peru and Bolivia to deliver Seoul's intentions to further strengthen economic ties with the resource-abundant nations.
He is scheduled to return to Korea Sunday.