S. Korean aircraft maker partners with German arms maker targeting European market

By Kim Joo-heon Posted : February 19, 2024, 17:19 Updated : February 20, 2024, 01:50
[Photographed by Yoo Dae-gil = dbeorlf123@ajunews.com]

SEOUL -- South Korea's aircraft maker Korea Aerospace Industries will work with Diehl Defence, a weapon manufacturer in Germany, targeting the European defense market. "IRIS-T," an air-to-air missile made by the German arms maker, is set to be integrated with South Korea's homemade fighter jet FA-50.

Diehl Defence led the IRIS-T development project which involves members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). This advanced missile boasts a maximum speed of Mach 3, equivalent to 3,580 kilometers per hour. Using its solid propellant motor and thrust-vector control, the IRIS-T can attack targets in all directions, including those flying behind the aircraft. Thanks to an infrared imaging seeker, the weapon also detects enemy aircraft at remarkably long distances.

Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) said in a statement on February 19 that the company partnered with Diehl Defence to upgrade South Korean fighter jets and cooperate in targeting potential export markets in Europe. The South Korean aircraft maker, which delivered 12 units of FA-50 fighter jets to Poland in 2023, is set to send the rest 36 between 2025 and 2028 after applying customizations based on the Polish Air Force's requests.

FA-50s will be used as the main aircraft for combat missions by the Polish Air Force, replacing its conventional MiG-29 fighter jets. In early 2023, Poland, along with Slovakia, dispatched 41 MiG-29 jet fighters, to Ukraine. With the departure of the MiG-29 jet fighters, Poland shifted its focus to South Korea for FA-50 fighter planes. The multirole fighter, developed by KAI, is a variant of the T-50 supersonic trainer aircraft, boasting a maximum takeoff weight of about 12,300 kilograms (27,117 pounds).

The South Korean light-weight jet fighter has similar flight characteristics and a cockpit layout to F-16 fighter jets, the best-selling light-weight fighter jets produced by the United States General Dynamics, making it easier for F-16 fighter pilots to quickly adapt to flying FA-50 jets. "We have identified various types of demand from clients regarding armament options for the FA-50 in overseas markets," said KAI CEO Kang Goo-young. Kang added he will continue to build on the success of South Korea's defense exports through collaboration with the German partner targeting the European market.

According to data provided by the Korea International Trade Association (KITA), South Korea's aircraft exports soared 320.5 percent year-on-year to a record high of some $1 billion in 2023. Out of this sum, exports to Poland reached $520 million. 

IRIS-T will be also incorporated into KF-21, a fighter plane created by KAI to replace South Korea's aging fleet of U.S.-made F-4 and F-5 fighters. According to specifications outlined by KAI, the fighter's maximum speed is Mach 1.81 (2,234 kilometers per hour) with its range standing at 2,900 kilometers. 

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