Iraq beefs up air force as Korea eyes global jet market

News & Insights
Jan 6, 2014

South Korea’s Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI) made news recently with its biggest deal ever, a $1.1 billion sale of FA-50 light attack jets to the Iraqi air force.

Under the deal, Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) will deliver 24 FA-50 jets to the Iraqi Air Force between 2015 and 2016. The FA-50 is a light attack variant of the T-50 Golden Eagle supersonic trainer aircraft jointly built by Lockheed Martin. The Iraq export version is named the T-50IQ.

The FA-50 beat the Hawk-128 by BAE Systems, the Yak-130 by Yakovlev of Russia and the L-159 by Aero Vodochody of the Czech Republic.

The FA-50 can be armed with a variety of air-to-air and air-to-surface munitions, the latter being of more interest to Iraq’s government, which is at war with anti-state militant groups including the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), a powerful al-Qaeda affiliate. The Korean deal isn’t Iraq’s only source of new air power, though. The United States will begin delivery this year of 18 F-16 fighters promised to Iraq in 2012. The US is also delivering dozens of Hellfire air-to-surface missiles (which presumably can be carried by the FA-50) and a number of ScanEagle surveillance drone aircraft to Iraq this year (some were already delivered toward the end of 2013). Those missiles and drones will likely be pressed into service this week, as the government fights to retake parts of Anbar Governorate from ISIS and allied militants.

KAI is also expected to sign a 25-year training and support contract with Iraq at a value of $1 billion, doubling the total size of the deal. With this move, the Korean firm is hoping to push its way into the global warplane market in a big way. Deals with Botswana, the UAE, the Philippines, and Chile are said to be on the horizon.