Electronic Weapons: South Korean LCA Gets Sharp Eyes


May 27, 2023: Since the 1990s, South Korea has created an impressive weapons development, production and export capability. South Korea started with tanks and artillery, then moved onto warships and submarines and finally combat aircraft. In 2009 some of the new South Korean T-50 jet trainers were reconfigured as LCAs (light attack aircraft). Some $300 million was being spent to convert four T-50s to A-50s. T-50 development began in the 1990s, at a cost of over two billion dollars. The first test flight took place in 2002. The 13 ton aircraft is actually a light fighter, and can fly at supersonic speeds. With some added equipment, like radars and fire control systems, the T-50 was designed so that it could be quickly turned into a combat aircraft, the A-50. This is what has been done continuously for over a decade. The latest combat version of the T-50 carries a 20mm auto-cannon and up to four tons of smart bombs and missiles. The T-50 can stay in the air about four hours per sortie and has a service life of 8,000 flight hours. South Korea found export customers because, at $20-30 million each, the T-50 is one of the more competitive jet trainers on the market. About 100-150 trainers are bought each year by the world's air forces and so far South Korea has built more than 200.

The most popular A-50 version is the FA-50 LCA (Light Combat Aircraft) and South Korea plans to replace its elderly F-5s with up to 150 FA-50s. The availability of the FA-50 will make it easier to sell the T-50, which can be built with some of the FA-50 features, as the customer desires. One new accessory is the lightweight PhantomStrike radar and fire control system. This lightweight (54 kg/118 pound) system is compact and its AESA radar outperforms older systems used in modern jet fighters. Because of its light weight, compact size and low operating power, several countries are replacing older radars with PhantomStrike and installing PhantomStrike in new aircraft. There is a lightweight (45 kg) version of PhantomStrike for UAVs and helicopters, which enhances the effectiveness and survivability of those aircraft.

PhantomStrike was made possible by incorporating affordable new technologies into a radar/fire control system. Others will follow but Raytheon got there first and is making the most of it.


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