South Korea scored a $1.1 billion contract with Iraq on Thursday to sell 24 light attack fighters in the country’s largest aircraft export deal, Seoul officials said.
Korea Aerospace Industries, the country’s sole aircraft maker, is also to strike an additional $1 billion deal soon for logistical support over the next 25 years.
KAI president and CEO Ha Sung-yong and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad signed the deal for the sale of FA-50 fighters, called the T-50IQ in Iraq, to be delivered from 2016-17. KAI will also train Iraqi pilots.
Korea beat strong competitors from Britain, Russia and the Czech Republic to secure its major bridgehead into the Middle East weapons market.
“This export contract is worth more than $2 billion in total. This is the greatest feat in the history of Korea’s aircraft exports,” Ha told reporters after the agreement with Iraqi officials.
Iraq is expected to use the FA-50 fleet to maintain its air power and train pilots while waiting for the delivery of 36 F-16 jets from the U.S.
The FA-50 is based on the T-50 trainer jet, which was created with technological support from U.S. defense giant Lockheed Martin. Korea plans to introduce around 60 FA-50s to replace its aging F-5s.
“This deal offers a crucial opportunity to confirm the competitiveness of Korean aircraft in the world market and the possibility of the industrialization of the country’s aircraft exportation,” Ha said.
Top South Korean officials also attended the signing ceremony in Baghdad. They included Defense Acquisition Program Administration chief Lee Yong-gol, Seoul’s Ambassador to Iraq Kim Hyun-myung and Air Force No. 2 Kim Hyung-chul.
Seoul officials said the FA-50 was highly evaluated due to its powerful performance, reliable safety features and reasonable maintenance costs, as well as the promise of pilot training. Korea’s bid competed against the Hawk-128 by Britain’s BAE, Yak-130 by Russia’s Yakovlev and L-159 by the Czech Republic’s Aero Vodochody.
The winning of the contract was the result of combined efforts by the government, military and private sector, KAI officials said.
KAI first promoted its T-50 series to Iraq when Iraqi President Jalal Talabani visited Korea in February 2009. The company’s full-scale export negotiations began in July 2011 after the Iraqi premier visited the KAI headquarters in Sacheon, South Gyeongsang Province, three months earlier.
In May this year, President Park Geun-hye sent a handwritten letter to the Iraqi government to help with Korea’s export bid. In July, National Assembly Speaker Kang Chang-hee visited Iraq and was said to have promoted the excellence of the Korean trainer jet.
South Korea has so far signed contracts with Iraq, Indonesia, Turkey and Peru to sell some 120 home-built aircraft, including the T-50 and the KT-1 basic trainer plane. It plans to develop the aviation industry as one of its new growth engines.
By Song Sang-ho and Joint Press Corps