June 10, 2006:
South Korea expects to enter the big league of weapons exporters this year, with export sales of over a billion dollars. Most of this increase (up from $200 million last year) is coming from sales of the new South Korean T-50 jet trainer. This aircraft was developed over the last decade at a cost of over two billion dollars. The first test flight of the T-50 took place in 2002. The 13 ton aircraft is actually a light fighter, and can fly at supersonic speeds. With some added equipment (radars and fire control), the T-50 can be quickly turned into a combat aircraft, the A-50. This version 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 hours in the air. South Korea apparently has several large sales deals in the works. At $20 million each, the T-50 is one of the more competitive jet trainers on the market. About 100-150 of these aircraft are bought each year by the world's air forces. In addition, the A-50 version is a very competitive light combat aircraft as well.