Israel to announce whether to buy Korean trainer jets
Israel is set to announce this month whether it will purchase Korean-built trainer jets to replace an aging fleet in its air force, Seoul officials said Wednesday.
Israel will make the announcement this Sunday, officials at the state Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) said. Israel is trying to choose between the T-50 Golden Eagle trainer jet, manufactured by Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI), and the M-346 Master, built by Italian firm Alenia Aermacchi.
The Israeli air force has been seeking to phase out its fleet of U.S.-built A-4 Skyhawk trainer jets. The procurement deal is reportedly worth $1 billion.
"We can't predict the result," a DAPA official said. "We're having intense negotiations with Israel as we speak."
Exporting the T-50, South Korea's first supersonic trainer jet, to Israel would open the door for KAI to also market it to other countries, such as Chile and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), experts have said. South Korea reached a $400 million deal with Indonesia last May to sell it T-50s, marking the first export of the trainer plane.
Experts believe the T-50 may offer the best performance, while the M-346 Master most closely resembles the Skyhawk in its performance and capabilities.
KAI jointly developed the T-50 with Lockheed Marin, a major U.S. defense contractor and the largest overseas arms supplier for Israel, in a connection that may work in South Korea's favor, experts have said.
On Tuesday, Haaretz, an English-language Israeli news site, reported Korea had offered to buy a large quantity of Israeli-made weapons and defense systems if Jerusalem agrees to purchase T-50s.
According to the report, Israel will take into account the value of reciprocal defense deals in making its decision on the trainer jet purchase. It said Italy proposed to purchase about $1 billion worth of defense equipment, but South Korea topped that with a deal worth $1.6 billion.
The report said Korea's purchase would include Israel's anti-missile Iron Dome system, built to intercept short-range rockets and artillery shells. The Korean offer also includes the two countries' cooperation on defense projects, such as the development of a Korean-made fighter jet, a helicopter and satellites, according to Haaretz. (Yonhap)