Korea Aircraft Industries (KAI) has been awarded a $52 million contract to upgrade the Royal Thai Air Force’s (RTAF) fleet of T-50TH Golden Eagle lead-in fighter trainers (LIFT) to include enhanced sensor and countermeasure capabilities. The deal is worth KRW62.3 billion (USD52.5 million) and features KAI’s provision of an “upgrade and modification programme” that will equip the RTAF’s fleet of 12 T-50TH aircraft – four of which have been delivered – with radar systems, radar warning receivers (RWR), and a countermeasures dispenser system (CMDS). The deal was inked between Kim Jo-won, president and CEO of KAI, and Air Chief Marshal of the RTAF, Bhanupong Seyayongka, in Seoul, South Korea. The contract, which is scheduled to be completed by October 2021, includes KAI’s supply of follow-up training and support as well as the supply of spare parts and the provision of associated support equipment.
The scope of the upgrade and modification program will see the current and future Thai fleet equipped with a fire control radar likely to be the Elta EL/M-2032 multi-mode system, radar warning receivers, and chaff/flare countermeasure dispenser systems. KAI says that the contract also includes through-program support, as well as training and spares, and the final delivery of the upgrade is due to take place by October 2021. Indonesia Air Force also opted for a similar upgrade in a deal signed at the Indo Defence trade show in Jakarta in November 2018. However, Indonesia’s upgrade will also include its T-50 fleet being integrated with a gun capability, while the Thai fleet already carries this. The Royal Thai Air Force has also integrated and certified bombs on its T-50s.
The KAI T-50 Golden Eagle is a family of South Korean supersonic advanced trainers and light combat aircraft, developed by Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) with Lockheed Martin. The T-50 is South Korea’s first indigenous supersonic aircraft and one of the world’s few supersonic trainers. Development began in the late 1990s, and its maiden flight occurred in 2002. The aircraft entered active service with the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) in 2005. The T-50 has been further developed into aerobatic and combat variants, namely T-50B, TA-50, and FA-50. The F-50 single-seat multirole fighter variant was considered. The T-50B serves with the South Korean air force’s aerobatics team. The TA-50 light attack variant has been ordered by Indonesia. The Iraqi Air Force ordered 24 units of the T-50IQ. The Philippine Air Force chose 12 KAI TA-50 aircraft to fulfill its requirement for a light attack and lead-in fighter trainer aircraft. Thailand ordered 12 units of the T-50 advanced trainer variant. The T-50A was marketed as a candidate for the United States Air Force’s next-generation T-X trainer program but failed to win.
The Royal Thai Air Force operates four T-50THs and has an additional eight examples on order. When queried, KAI declined to state whether the $52 million contract relates only to the eight new fighters, or the entire fleet of 12. The T-50 family is equipped with the Elta EL/M-2032 pulse Doppler radar. Currently assigned to 401 Squadron of Wing 4, the Thai T-50TH is used as a lead-in trainer for the RTAF’s advanced fighter aircraft such as the Lockheed Martin F-16A/B MLU and Saab Gripen C/D, and the air force has taken delivery of an initial batch of four jets that was ordered in 2015. A second batch of eight aircraft was ordered in August 2017, and KAI said it will deliver these by 2020. This newly announced upgrade will enable the T-50 to step up to the role currently carried out by the light attack/trainer Aero Vodochody L-39ZA Albatros that it is replacing.